Various Artists

Byrds Won't Fly Today

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With the subtitle "18 desperate folk-punk laments from Byrds-a-like obscure U.S. garage groups circa 1965/1967," that slogan acts as truth in advertising for this unusual but worthwhile garage anthology. It's sometimes forgotten that though the Byrds' chart-topping success in 1965 and 1966 was relatively brief, they influenced hundreds if not thousands of bands. Here's some of the evidence, though just as more hard-edged garage rock records aped the most obvious and crudest elements of the British Invasion, so do these obscure non-hits emulate the most basic aspects of the Byrds' jangly guitars and angelic harmonies. Of course, it's nothing you'd compare to the 1965-1966 Byrds themselves. For one thing, the lyrics are usually teenage heartbreak laments (though Rock Garden's "The Wind Is My Keeper" is a notable exception in that regard) rather than statements on the order of "Turn! Turn! Turn!" or "Eight Miles High." And there's not just often more of a pop influence than the Byrds had; there's also far less of a knowledgeable absorption of bluegrass, country, Indian, jazz, and psychedelic elements into the folk-rock framework than the Byrds used even on their early albums. But at the very least, these earnest Byrds derivations have a naïve charm, though they lack tunes as memorable as the ones the Byrds recorded (even on the Empty Set's tear of a page from the Byrds' book by folk-rocking an obscure Bob Dylan song, "Tomorrow Is a Long Time"). And sometimes, the tracks are actually pretty worthwhile on their own terms. The Ragamuffins' "Four Days of Rain" comes about the closest to the actual Byrds sound, almost replicating to a T their mid-'60s harmonies, guitar chime, earnest lyricizing, and even Michael Clarke's whooshing "The Bells of Rhymney" cymbal patterns. Also worthy of praise is Dalton, James & Sutton's impressively polished, country-inflected "One Time Around," with a pretty convincing stab at Gene Clark's vocal style; the Ragamuffins' Byrds-y arrangement of the oft-covered "Let's Get Together," with a trembling son-of-Gene Clark lead vocal; and the two raw folk-rockers by the Hard Times, who are about the best-known band on this anthology, which gives you some idea of how deep the compilers dug for these relics.

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