Roger McGuinn & Band/Cardiff Rose

Roger McGuinn

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Roger McGuinn & Band/Cardiff Rose Review

by Mark Deming

Roger McGuinn was the uncontested leader of the Byrds from the departure of David Crosby in 1968 until the group broke up in 1973, but he seemed to have difficulty establishing an identity as a solo artist after he went out on his own, and this two-fer release from the British Beat Goes On label features two albums that document his search for a clear new direction in the '70s. After releasing two solo albums that made little commercial or critical impression, McGuinn joined forces with producer John Boylan, who in turn introduced him to a band featuring several former members of Sneaky Pete Kleinow's group Cold Steel. McGuinn hired them for the sessions that became 1975's Roger McGuinn & Band, and their tight if slightly faceless country-rock chops were strong enough to put muscle on the bones of McGuinn's better songs, especially "Lover of the Bayou" and "Born to Rock 'n' Roll." However, they unfortunately also made second-class McGuinn tunes like the mock-calypso "Lisa" and the aimless "Easy Does It" sound even more tepid than they were, and the leader made the mistake of letting the band contribute five of the disc's ten tunes, and their compositions showed even less personality than their playing. McGuinn rallied with his next album, 1976's Cardiff Rose, which matched him with an unlikely but sympathetic collaborator -- former David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson, who met McGuinn while they were both part of Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue tour. With fellow Rolling Thunder vets David Mansfield, Rob Stoner, and Howie Wyeth anchoring the studio band, Cardiff Rose rocks out with real force, but possesses a sense of humor that flatters McGuinn and keeps a welcome spring in its step. Ronson also gave McGuinn some space to air his folkie impulses, and the seafaring tale "Jolly Roger" and the old-timey murder ballad "Pretty Polly" add welcome texture to the album. Persuading Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, and Joni Mitchell to help with the songwriting wasn't such a bad idea, either. Hearing Roger McGuinn & Band and Cardiff Rose back to back, it becomes obvious that what McGuinn needed most in the '70s was a group of worthy collaborators, and Cardiff Rose makes it clear that when he had the right help, he could still make a great record. The remastering on BGO's release of these albums is fine, though not superior to the 2004 editions released by Sundazed, and John Tobler's liner notes are informative but tend to focus on tangential details rather than the nuts and bolts of the albums in question.

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