[Review] Roger McGuinn: Back From Rio (1991)

McGuinn catches a little full moon fever in the not-quite-twilight of his career.

Kronomyth 8.0: Time, the redeemer.

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 the 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.

Original LP Version

A1. Someone To Love (Roger McGuinn/Camilla McGuinn) (3:32)
A2. Car Phone (Roger McGuinn/Mike Campbell) (4:33)
A3. You Bowed Down (Elvis Costello) (3:52)
A4. Suddenly Blue (Roger McGuinn/Scott Cutler/Dennis Morgan) (3:49)
A5. The Trees Are All Gone (Roger McGuinn/Camilla McGuinn) (3:51)
B1. King of the Hill (Roger McGuinn/Tom Petty) (5:27)
B2. Without Your Love (Roger McGuinn/Camilla McGuinn) (3:59)
B3. The Time Has Come (Roger McGuinn/Scott Cutler) (3:45)
B4. Your Love Is A Gold Mine (Roger McGuinn/Dave Stewart) / Back From Rio Interlude (Roger McGuinn/Tom Petty/Jeff Lynne) (4:06)
B5. If We Never Meet Again (Jules Shear) (4:28)

The Players

Roger McGuinn (lead vocal, background vocals, 12-string electric guitar, 12-string acoustic guitar), George Hawkins (bass guitar), John Jorgensen (6-string electric guitar, saxophone, baritone guitar, 6-string lead guitar, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, mandolin), Stan Lynch (drums, percussion), Benmont Tench (organ, keyboards, Hammond B-3), Michael Thompson (6-string acoustic guitar, slide guitar, baritone guitar) with Mike Campbell (6-string electric guitar, slide guitar, baritone guitar), David Cole (percussion, piano riff, acoustic guitar, MPC-60), Elvis Costello (background vocals on A3), David Crosby (background vocals), Dan Higgins (saxophone), Chris Hillman (background vocals), Michael Penn (background vocals, 12-string acoustic guitar), Tom Petty (background vocals, lead vocal), Stan Ridgway (telephone voice on A2), Timothy B. Schmit (background vocals), J. Steven Soles (background vocals). Produced by David Cole and Roger McGuinn; engineered by David Cole and Peter Doell; mixed by David Cole and Roger McGuinn.

The Pictures

Art direction by Eileen Connelly. Photography by Max Aguilera-Hellweg. Cover concept by Jimmy, Millie and Randy. Grooming by Peter Kukla. Props by Eileen Connelly and Rick Elden.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and compact disc on January 8, 1991 in the US (Arista, AL/AC/ARCD-8648) and in the UK and Germany (Arista, 211/411/261 348) with lyrics innersleeve. UK/German version features a different cover. Reached #44 on the US charts

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