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LAST WINTER an album appeared on A and M records entitled The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark. The jacket featured a hill-billy type on a motorcycle passing a joint to another in a sidecar. That picture is almost a visual description of the music on the inside, a very gentle blend of C and W and rock. Generally the term Country and Western calls up images of excruciatingly sentimental lyrics with a fiddle and banjo contest going on in the background. But the arrangements on Expedition (songs written mostly by the musicians Gene Clark and Doug Dillard) combine the more subtle components of each genre, ending up with a very relaxed, tension-free sound.
Their second album, Through The Morning, Through The Night has just been released. Again, there is a mixture of rock and C and W, but the proportions are quite different. They have about twice as many sidemen on this album, so that the sound itself is much more complex. And with the addition of several "pickers," the emphasis has shifted further away from rock.
There is something in the North Eastern ear which fights this kind of music. The higher frequencies, the tension created by the fast pace of fiddle and banjo, and the generally unsophisticated lyrics grate on ears unaccustomed to the sound. But in the past year or so, music from Nashville and the Southwest has become more popular. Johnny Cash and Dylan, Glen Campbell and Roger Miller have shown that there is a market even on rock radio stations for C and W songs. And, as with most kinds of music, the more you hear it, the more palatable it becomes.
Through The Morning is about fifty percent hard core country music, expertly performed. Doug Dillard comes from a family of bluegrass musicians and plays banjo, fiddle and guitar more than competently. David Jackson, bass, piano, and cello, scales down the harshness of the other instruments: and Jon Corneal (drums) gives the music the rhythmic patterns of rock. Sneaky Pete, listed as a "Special Picker," plays a very fine steel guitar, sometimes mimicking Clark's mouthharp or the piano, sometimes taking the role of lead guitar.
The lyrics are rather less saccharine than most C and W songs, but a couple of the tearjerkers are still there. True country music has simplified the job of the songwriter considerably. The major themes of the genre are "home, sweet home," Mother, and the girl-friend who is off with another man. Creativity is not a criterion.
Happily, Clark manages to get away from this limited scope occasionally. "Polly," which is both instrumentally and vocally a fine song, similar to a toned down Crosby, Stills, and Nash, is far more delicately written.
If the wild bird could speak,
He'd tell of places you have been.
He's been in my dreams,
And he knows all the ways of the wind.
Polly, come home again.
Spread your wings to the wind.
I've felt much of the pain
As it begins.
DILLARD AND CLARK have also picked up some other songs written by other groups and reworked them to fit their own style. "So Sad," and Everly Brothers tune which was soggily sentimental in the original, becomes much more alive with a rock background. Lennon and McCartney's "Don't Let Me Down" also comes off with considerably more personality than the original, with some very effective slide guitar and piano work.
In general, Through The Morning is an album worth having. The high quality of the musicianship and vocals (Dillard, Clark, and Donna Washburn) contribute to a sound which is very easy to listen to. It does not have anything startlingly new to say, but if you want a rest from being startled, lie back in your hammock and listen; it will grow on you.
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