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Pure Gene-ius (sic)
on 22 July 2002
If there's any justice in the world, Gene Clark would be held with as much delight and in as high an esteem as Bob Dylan. However, such is the cruel and unjust nature of the music world that, until this long-overdue re-release of his second solo album, very few will have had the chance to sample this man's immeasurable (and now sadly departed) talent.
Luck and Gene Clark never really went hand-in-hand. He left the Byrds just as their furtive creativity peaked (see Younger Than Yesterday and Notorious Byrd Brothers for evidence), and apart from poor album sales, his solo material has rarely been given the praise it deserves.
Well, let's redress the balance. For "White Light" showcases a man who, as well as having a voice that would melt the hardest of hearts, could write songs of great emotion and beauty. In the style of all great songwriters past and present (specifically Dylan, Reed, Drake and Wilson), here is a man who has no fear of weaving his own song tapestry from self-extracted fibres of the psyche. The sparse instrumentation and dream-like vocal style only help to emphasise the fact - here is the sound of a man alone, isolated, and yet free.
Musically, Clark's solo work draws its main inspiration from the twin pillars of country and folk. Whilst this is hardly surprising considering his Byrds lineage (indeed, one can hear the influence of Dylan throughout, a fact blatantly conveyed by his cover of "Tears Of Rage"), his sound clearly tries to break away from the folk-rock of his mid-60s incarnation. Here, Clark is the touch-bearing troubadour, the soothsayer and the lovesick teenager that bedsit ennui spend most of their lives aspiring to.
The music that lies within "White Light" is, naturally, haunting, emotive and beautiful. Whilst the album does have its more up-tempo moments ("White Light" itself), for the most part Clark is content to sing with merely a guitar to back him. It's here his style is most effective - witness "With Tomorrow" and "For A Spanish Guitar" for evidence that the human voice can reduce a grown man to tears. And, even for someone who loathes C&W, you can't help but love the likes of "The Virgin" - storytelling that even Dylan would be envious of.
To listen to this album in its entirity is, to be frank, a somewhat unsettling experience. Clark takes you through a real emotional rollercoaster - lost love, anger, isolation are all addressed and, with the album's instrumentation, you're almost compelled to join him on his journey. People who do shouldn't worry about shedding a tear or two - it's almost as if your meant to.
All in all, "White Light" is a very welcome re-release. Bonus tracks aside, the album has aged somewhat, but represents perhaps the best example of what might be considered as a lost period of musical history - the post-hippy American singer-songwriter movement. Byrds fans (especially those of Clark-era albums such as Mr Tambourine Man and Turn, Turn, Turn) may be in for a surprise, but for the rest of us "White Light" is the best window into the stark yet enchanting world of Gene Clark. That is, until they re-release his magnum opus, "No Other"...