Category Archives: Roger McGuinn

Roger McGuinn Discography

The principal figure in the second-most-important American rock band of the 60s, Roger McGuinn’s legend always seemed to fit him loosely. With his distinctive, twangy voice and immediately recognizable 12-string Rickenbacker, McGuinn was one of the most influential musicians of his time. Yet his stature as the Big Byrd never translated into a successful solo career. He recorded five albums in the 70s, only one of which cracked the US Top 100 (1974’s Peace On You), and by 1975 he could be found among Bob Dylan’s supporting tour musicians as part of the Rolling Thunder Revue.

In 1979, a reunion with Gene Clark and Chris Hillman led to one of the year’s best albums, but the partnership was over by 1981 and McGuinn didn’t release another album for a decade. In 1991, encouraged by the success of Tom Petty and the Traveling Wilburys, Arista Records released a new Roger McGuinn album entitled Back From Rio. Sounding strikingly like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (who were featured on the album), Rio became one of the year’s biggest surprises. There would be no encore, however, as McGuinn turned his interests to self-released folk recordings (a trait McGuinn shares with the fictional Doonesbury character, Jimmy Thudpucker).

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Roger McGuinn (1973)

Kronomyth 1.0: FREE AS A BYRD. Roger McGuinn’s first album is all over the map: blues, jazz, country, folk, rock, and one song performed on the banjo and Moog synthesizer (“Time Cube,” in case you’re curious). The guest list is an impressive one that includes all of the original Byrds, Bob Dylan and Bruce Johnston. And yet, somehow, Roger McGuinn was roundly ignored by fans and FM radio stations alike. It’s too bad, since the album deserves an audience (at least Brian Eno seems to have picked up a copy, to judge by the cover of Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy). The Byrds’ albums were often eclectic affairs, and McGuinn returns to the same haunts on his own: Dylan-inspired folk rock (“I’m So Restless”), airy/jazzy David Crosby songs (“My New Woman”), songs about planes (“Draggin’) and authentic folk songs (“Heave Away”). McGuinn also steals a page from the Byrds-inspired Eagles (“Lost My Drivin’ Wheel”) and prefigures the island feel of “Don’t You Write Her Off” on “M’Linda.” Where the main Byrdman fails on his first album is in creating a clear persona. He takes pains not to try the same trick twice, and the album’s scattershot approach is its undoing. It’s an interesting record, often engaging, but I couldn’t tell you where the man’s loyalties lie after hearing this album: folk, jazz, pop, rock. This can be filed under “too smart for its own good” if you care, with a caveat that it’s too smart to ignore.

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Roger McGuinn: Cardiff Rose (1976)

If you think Bob Dylan is a genius, well, Roger McGuinn also thinks so. How else to explain the desire to keep the mystery man’s show rolling with this studio album? Produced by Mick Ronson, Cardiff Rose is the Rolling Thunder Revue Part Deux, with David Mansfield, Rob Stoner and Howard Wyeth all on board, plus lyricist Jacques Levy (Desire) heavily engaged. It’s not a bad thing to be the Bard’s little brother, of course. The opening “Take Me Away,” which recounts the Rolling Thunder road shows with Dylan, reveals a re-energized Roger McGuinn. What follows are poetic sea chanties (“Jolly Roger”), Desire-era Dylan (“Friend”), a narsty Ian Hunter impersonation (“Rock And Roll Time”) and a loopy ode to Abbie Hoffman (“Partners In Crime”). It closes on a Joni Mitchell original, “Dreamland,” that sounds like her experimental heiness filtered through the Dead. (Mitchell later covered the track on Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.) Not everything on Cardiff Rose is gold. The Dylan original, “Up To Me,” is essentially “Shelter From The Storm” in its Rolling Thunder rendition with new lyrics, and the two tracks that follow (“Round Table,” “Pretty Polly”) might have been better given that there are only 9 tracks on here. However, song for song this is a strong effort with nice production from Ronson. Oddly, a clear image of McGuinn never emerges on Cardiff Rose. Is he a rocker, a folk historian, a Dylan disciple or a Byrd in restless flight? You won’t find the answer here, but you will find a lot of good music. The expanded CD reissues include a live version of “Dreamland” and a cover of the old Ziggy nugget, “Soul Love” (very cool).

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McGuinn, Clark & Hillman (1979)

This was actually my first adventure in byrding, having netted it for “Don’t You Write Her Off,” then releasing it, then capturing it anew in a used record store. (The great cycle of something, I suppose.) It caused a small stir at the time and contained three wonderful tracks: “Long Long Time,” “Don’t You Write Her Off” and “Surrender To Me.” These songs are representative of what was right about the ‘70s soft rock movement. The rest of the album flirts with disco, adopting the city-slicker-in-cowboy-boots stance of Eagles and others. Honestly, the album begins to fall apart after “Surrender To Me,” though the closing “Bye Bye, Baby” is an awfully pretty ballad. Like the CS&N alliances, the three songwriters came to this project as individuals, choosing to write with outside collaborators rather than each other. Where they meet is in the harmonies, though even here other artists cloud the picture. That the trio couldn’t came up with better material is a bit disappointing, but that they left any kind of keepsake behind is a plus. However, this isn’t The Byrds in their natural setting. The pointless plug from Stephen Peeples on the cover and the staged cover photography scream “Cheese factor nine and scaling.” In fact, I’d rate this as some of the worst album packaging of all time. What’s inside is occasionally very good, especially the opening four cuts, which compare favorably to Bob Welch, Eagles et cetera. Still, the world needed The Byrds, not more songs about groupies, maneating women and soured relationships. At some point in your life, you should hear “Long Long Time,” “Don’t You Write Her Off” and “Surrender To Me.” The rest of this record you can live without.

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Roger McGuinn: Back From Rio (1991)

Roger McGuinn is back. From Rio (not really). And he brought Tom Petty with him. I guess that’s the premise behind re-launching his solo career after so many years. Back From Rio sounds a lot like Tom Petty, or at least Tom Petty with Don Henley’s brain inside of him. (I don’t know why I’m always taking out people’s brains and putting them in other people’s bodies.) The songs are punchy, polished pop with a noticeable twang, not far removed from the contemporary work of singer/songwriters like Graham Parker and Lindsey Buckingham. The lyrics generally emanate from a failed romance (must be the influence of all those Heartbreakers); the Henley connection occurs in the social correction and anti-materialism found in songs like “Car Phone” and “The Trees Are All Gone.” It’s a very professional affair, affording younger artists (Elvis Costello, Michael Penn) a chance to work with an influential if infrequent artist. McGuinn, never a prolific songwriter, takes help where he can get it: EC is stamped all over “You Bowed Down,” Petty on “King of the Hill.” Combined with McGuinn’s own material (“The Time Has Come,” “Someone To Love”), Back From Rio is remarkably solid. Of course, a lot of people were making music like this: studio pop with ringing guitars and harmonies that could be seen as an alt rock update of The Byrds’ original vision. That McGuinn can lay claim to this legacy puts him ahead of the pack, much as it aided Roy Orbison and The Traveling Wilburys. But the history lesson was lost on most and, despite charting well, Back To Rio went back to the cutout bins. If you missed his emergence from the shadows the first time, this effort is worth a second look.

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Roger McGuinn: Treasures From The Folk Den (2001)

Honestly, I thought this was going to be a folk den waste of time. Instead, it awakened a hunger in me for folk music that I didn’t know I had. First, to backtrack for a bit, the origins of the Folk Den Project, which has consumed much of Roger McGuinn’s time in the 21st century. McGuinn began posting folk songs, one a month, on his web site, which led to a dual discovery wherein McGuinn delved deeper into our country’s musical heritage (folk) while simultaneously exploring our digital future (the Internet, MP3 technology and digital recording/editing tools). From these came the Folk Den projects (volumes one through four), which typically featured McGuinn multitracked in his home. This disc features McGuinn taking his exploration on the road, visiting the homes (temporary or otherwise) of artists such as Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Tommy Makem and Pete Seeger. Given the guests involved, Treasure From The Folk Den is a more professional affair than the previous Projects (as I understand it), though the folksy informality of the original sessions remains since, after all, these are still essentially homemade recordings. Now, that bit of history settled, onto the music. McGuinn’s voice has always had a “tart innocence” to it that you either enjoy or you don’t. To my ears, it sounds as good as ever, though I would argue it’s out of its element on the Irish songs (“Finnegan’s Wake,” “Whiskey in the Jar”). Paired with Baez and Collins, it’s a thing of beauty: “John Riley,” “Bonnie Ship The Diamond,” “Wagoner’s Lad.” It’s even more effective on its own: “Alabama Bound,” “Cane Blues.” Those tracks account for most of the treasure; I’d add “John The Revelator” and the instrumental “Reel” for good measure. The Tommy Makem tunes are also good, but the man has released an album or two of Irish music himself, and you’d best go searching there. The Folk Den series is clearly a labor of love for Roger McGuinn, and establishes him as an able ambassador of American Folk in the new century. I wouldn’t be scared off by the cover (or what you can see of it after the label-happy people at Plymouth Public Library got through with it); this is folk captured in its very essence: fleeting and timeless.

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