[Review] Chris Hillman: Clear Sailin’ (1977)

Half a good album from one-fourth of The Byrds, which stills adds up to something.

Kronomyth 2.0: High flying byrd.

Imaginary wrasslin’ match, the first: Clear Sailin’ vs. Thirty-Three & 1/3 (The Bearded Byrd vs. the Shaven Beatle). It’s something I’ve been toying with in my head lately, finding a fitting partner in the same weight class and letting them go toe to toe. Of course, The Beatles were bigger (and better) than The Byrds, George Harrison a better guitarist, one a Hare Krishna and the other a Christian, but you get the analogy.

Both albums are boogaloo: soft rock with some funky horn charts and a country honky-tonk heart. Harrison’s had two legitimate hits (“This Song,” “Crackerbox Palace,”), Chris Hillman’s doesn’t. Take away the two hits, though, and they’re pretty similar. “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” stacks up fine against a “Learning How to Love You,” “Ain’t That Peculiar” to “Woman Don’t You Cry For Me,” “Fallen Favorite” to “See Yourself,” “Clear Sailin’” to “Pure Smokey.” Hillman is more Eagles than Beatles I realize, but I don’t own any Glenn Frey solo albums so I’m going with what I’ve got.

Both Hillman and Harrison had professional bands behind them; here, Skip Edwards and Al Garth deserve special mention. Lyrically, however, Clear Sailin’ isn’t always clear. The opening “Nothing Gets Through,” for example, consists of a string of nonsensical similes, which I’m pretty sure was the intent but still doesn’t start the record off on a strong note. (You could argue that “Woman Don’t You Cry For Me” was an odd way to open Thirty-Three & 1/3 too.) “Quits” is also clumsily worded.

As a solo artist, Chris Hillman doesn’t have the vocal presence of a Roger McGuinn or his dramatic sensibilities. He needs the help, the harmonies and a prevailing wind to push him along. Clear Sailin’ is a mostly competent album of country/rock/disco (“crud” to the rest of you) that suggests Hillman had about half a good album in him at any given moment, a point that McGuinn, Clark & Hillman confirmed.

Original LP Version

A1. Nothing Gets Through (Chris Hillman/Peter Knobler) (4:22)
A2. Fallen Favorite (Peter Knobler/Chris Hillman) (3:29)
A3. Quits (Danny O’Keefe) (3:22)
A4. Hot Dusty Roads (Chris Hillman/Peter Knobler) (3:04)
A5. Heartbreaker (David Wolfert/Carole Bayer Sager) (5:24)
B1. Playing The Fool (Chris Hillman/Dan McCorison) (3:55)
B2. Lucky In Love (Peter Knobler/Chris Hillman) (2:30)
B3. Rollin’ And Tumblin’ (Chris Hillman) (4:26)
B4. Ain’t That Peculiar (William “Smokey” Robinson/Warren Moore/Robert Rogers/Marvin Tarplin) (2:44)
B5. Clear Sailin’ (Chris Hillman/Rick Roberts/Richard Marx) (4:31)

Original 8-track version
A1. Nothing Get Through*
A2. Fallen Favorite
A3. Hot Dusty Roads (Part I)
B1. Hot Dusty Roads (Part II)
B2. Quits
B3. Clear Sailin’
C1. Playing the Fool
C2. Rollin’ and Tumblin’
C3. Lucky in Love (Part I)
D1. Lucky in Love (Part II)
D2. Ain’t That Peculiar
D3. Heartbreaker

Track A1 should be titled “Nothing Gets Through.”

The Players

Chris Hillman (vocals, electric and acoustic guitars), Merel Bregante (drums), John Brennan (lead guitar), Skip Edwards (keyboards, pedal steel guitar, synthesizer), Richard Marx (vocals, rhythm guitar), Larry Sims (bass and vocals) with Jock Bartley (first lead guitar on B1), Michael Clarke (tambourine on B5), Al Garth (violin, viola, saxophone, recorder), Bobby LaKind (percussion on B1), Joe Lala (percussion), Tim Schmit (additional background vocals). Produced by Jim Mason; recording engineered by Tom Knox, David Ruffo, Paul Dobbe; remix engineered by Alex Kazanegras.

The Pictures

Art direction & design by David Larkham. Photography by Ed Caraeff.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track in June 1977* in the US (Asylum, 7E/ET8-1104), the UK (Asylum, K 53060), Brazil (Asylum, 32.016), Canada (Asylum, 7ES 1104), Japan (Asylum, P-10395Y) and the Netherlands (Asylum, AS-53060) with innersleeve; reached #188 on the US charts. 8-track features different track order. (*5/7/77 issue of Billboard mentions that the album’s release was pushed to June.)

  1. Re-issued on compact disc on February 25, 1991 in Japan (Asylum, WPCP-4146).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc on October 15, 2002 in the US (Wounded Bird, 1104).

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