McGuinn, Clark & Hillman were one of a series of post-Byrds linkups between the original members that fizzled after a lot of initial promise. They were greeted with great enthusiasm in the rock press in early 1977, but -- as with the self-titled Byrds reunion album on Asylum four years earlier -- never lived up to the promise of the talents involved. Possibly it was too much to expect that they would succeed, given the shakiness of some of the personalities involved (specifically, Gene Clark, arguably the most talented songwriter of the three, who pulled out early on) and the music environment of the time, which had just sworn itself off of prog rock, burned itself out on punk rock, and worn out a fixation on disco. Absent a trio willing to make a committed effort by all three parties, which never fully happened after the debut album, they were always a day late and a dollar short in terms of getting much more than sympathetic enthusiasm from the press and attracting the loyalty of unreformed early-'70s hippies (the audience that would hang on Crosby, Stills & Nash's periodic reunions). What this double-CD set reminds listeners, however, is that there was some very fine, if not brilliant or groundbreaking, music generated by these guys, at least on their first two albums, when they were still more or less a trio. No, the songs -- with the exception of Clark's contributions -- weren't the finest ever written, but they were mostly catchy and had good hooks; though why is it that one feels that, say, Chris Hillman's "Stopping Traffic" would have worked better as an acoustic number by the trio? The set ends with a pair of acoustic Roger McGuinn demos that are almost worth the price of admission by themselves -- if the group could have sounded as simple and adorned in its official releases as McGuinn sounds here, it might just have had a commercial future, even as a duo. Given the on-again, off-again availability of the group's catalog on CD since the early '90s, the quality of this set is excellent, from the artwork and packaging to the sound quality, which is a significant improvement on the original LPs. They still don't sound much like the Byrds, but Byrds completists should definitely own this double-CD set, and fans of the actual trio will discover a lot that is worthwhile as well.
The Capitol Collection Review
by Bruce Eder