After "Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde" this was a return to form. I wouldn't quite go so far as to say, triumphant form, but it's pretty damn good. The band has gelled. Heavy rock has gone out the window. They've found and/or written some good songs. And it sounds like a load of good ole boys who really enjoy playing together. It has some similarities to "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" but with much more new material and less of a slavish "this is how we do things in Nashville" attitude.
- The opener, "Ballad of Easy Rider" - named after the film of the same name - written by Roger. A good song which rolls along nicely with foreground guitar and orchestral accompaniment.
- Some traditional folk, "Jack Tar the Sailor" a sea shanty, and "Oil in my lamp", a baptist hymn, both very well performed with some country touches.
- The up-tempo gospel number, "Jesus is just alright" - one of their most successful country rock outings with a nice touch of scat singing - this is the sort of thing that provides an answer to the question, "What is country rock?"
- The, by now, almost obligatory Dylan number. This time he's chosen "It's all over now, baby blue". The original Byrds had a go at this in the early days but it never got through to release. I guess Roger had always wanted to nail the song and this time, I'd say he's got it. A much slower and deliberate version. Touches of steel guitar but otherwise played straight apart from interesting rhythm change for the chorus.
- A couple of current country numbers, "Tulsa County Blue" (written by John York from the group but sung by McGuinn), and "There must be someone", both performed well without any showiness.
- And a great outro - the penultimate number is Woodie Guthrie's "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)". I've heard other versions of this song but I always go back to this one. It's in waltz time again with very simple accompaniment; it's the very sad story of the crash of a plane containing migrant farm workers, "Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita, adios mes amigos, Jesus e Maria, You won't have a name when you ride the big airplane, all they will call you will be deportee."
- The final number is "Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins". At long last Roger's space obsession bears fruit and how!. It starts with the slow but impressive launch of the spacecraft and then it's into a very folky ballad, just Rog with single guitar and some kind of drone, which finishes with "....they had God's helping hand."
Unlike most of the other CD's in this series, the bonus tracks deliver as well. There's a couple of more than decent originals plus various alternates which all are of some interest.
I hadn't played this in ages. I guess I'd forgotten how much I liked it. There's not really a bad performance and the harmonies are as immaculate as ever. I commented in my review of "Sweetheart" that they did sound a bit earnest, particularly with Parsons partially edited out. I don't get that impression on this album. They're good, they know it, and they're pretty relaxed about it.
Along with "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" this album is the most country-influenced album in the Byrds catalogue. But whereas "Sweetheart" tends to lean on classical country, "Ballad of Easy Rider" shows a much broader approach. This greater variety in styles, plus overall stronger material, makes this much more satisfying album than it's much-acclaimed predecessor, which I honestly speaking find somewhat over-rated.
There is a mature and releaxed feeling in these recordings, and though there is a mellow mood in many of the lyrics, it is somehow quite an uplifting experience to listen to the album.
The playing is great, with brilliant guitar work from McGuinn and in particular Clarence White. The vocals and especially the harmonies are of the same high standards that characterize all Byrds albums; great that Clarence White was finally given a lead vocal. His gritty nasal vocals on "Oil in My Lamp" help making the track one of many highlights on the album. In fact, this may be the first album where White really shines as an equal partner to McGuinn, who was now the only original member of the band.
McGuinn was never a very productive songwriter for the Byrds, and here he only contributes one new song, but on the other hand an outstanding one, "Ballad of Easy Rider".
All member have lead vocals, and though neither John York not Gene Parsons are great lead-singers, their contributions come out quite convincingly.
Highlights, though, are songs songs with McGuinn in front. "Tulsa County" is a fine song with great vocals and fine harmonies. Even more breath-taking is their new version slower version of Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue", and McGuinn's treatment of Woody Guthrie's "Deportee" is just beautiful.
Among the seven bonus-tracks you'll find some real gems. Especially Jackson Browne's "Mae Jean Goes to Hollywood" and considering the short playing-time of the original album, it's a big mystery why this fine recording was left out. Along with the title track song is probably the closest they come to early Byrds-sound ( Younger than Yesterday ).
"Way Beyond the Sun" is a nice country-blues song, which may not be among the most memorable Byrds-recordings, but still as good as couple of the weaker original-tracks. The alternate versions are all fine; especially the longer version of "Ballad of Easy Rider".
I grew up with this album. My 2 brothers and I used to look foward to hearing the rocket taking of at the end! Now revisiting it years later, you realise just how fantastic and moving these songs are. Buy it. At this price you just can't go wrong.
"The Ballad of Easy Rider" has often been viewed as one of the groups lesser works. It is time for a reappraisal. Released at the end of the 60's, the album serves as an effective way of reflecting on the decade past. The moods are wanderlust (the title track, "Tulsa County Blue"), concern ("Deportee"), love ("There must be someone"), religion ("Jesus is just alright") and the future ("Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins"). In short the concerns of a troubled yet exciting decade. Musically, the album covers country, folk and gospel. The group all turn in strong performances. Indeed, Gene Parsons produces a Byrd classic with the wistful "Gunga Din". For Byrd fans who love "Untitled" and "Sweetheart" you will know that this album is a must. For people who love music, get this record into your life. Now."
Exactly what I wanted and in excellent condition ... Thank you I could not ask for more ... I recommend this to everyone who is a Byrds fan and who wants to own more than just their most popular tracks.
After Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde which included some heavy rock tracks I really enjoy the folk/country influences of Ballard Of Easy Rider. The title track is simple and very effective and a bonus long version is also included. Jesus Is Just Alright is another great song, later covered by The Doobie Brothers, I like both versions. There follows 3 more excellent songs, Its All Over Now,Baby Blue, There Must Be Someone (I Can Turn To) and Gunga Din. Fiddler A Dram (Moog Experiment) is another bonus track which shows that Roger McGuinn was continuing to look to the future.