In the minds of many fans, 1968 was Year One for country-rock, the year that the International Submarine Band's Safe at Home and the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo heralded the arrival of a fresh new sound. But former Byrds vocalist Gene Clark had already made some prescient gestures toward fusing country with folk-rock on his 1967 solo debut, Gene Clark with the Godsin Brothers, and when Clark released his first collaborative effort with banjo virtuoso Doug Dillard a year later, they created a mature and confident sound that was exciting, thoughtful, and deeply soulful in a way those better-known albums were not. The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark initially grew out of a series of informal jams between Clark and Dillard, but by the time they went into the studio, Dillard, Clark, and their picking partners Bernie Leadon, Don Beck, and David Jackson had honed their music to a fine point; there's still a breezy sense of freedom and discovery in this music, but the musicians mesh with one another beautifully, and while elements of bluegrass, vintage country, folk, and rock all inform this music, the songs (mostly written by Clark in collaboration with Dillard, Leadon, or both) and arrangements integrate the pieces seamlessly. Doug Dillard's banjo and fiddle figure prominently in the arrangements, and his performances are expert and heartfelt, but Clark is the true cornerstone of this album; he rarely, if ever, sang this well in the studio, and the poetic sensibility and intelligent, graceful tone of the songs brought out the best in him, with "She Darked the Sun," "Something's Wrong," and "The Radio Song" standing proudly alongside anything in his catalog. The Dillard and Clark partnership proved short-lived, and their second and final album was a disappointing set dominated by covers, but The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark is one of the first, inarguable classics of country-rock. Time has been kinder to this album than most of the genre's founding works, and it's a work rooted in tradition while reveling in freedom and new ideas and making the most of them all.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming