Gene Clark - White Light

Gene Clark
White Light

Released 1971 on A&M
Reviewed by Dave Furgess, 07/05/2007ce

1. The Virgin (3:35)
2. With Tomorrow (2:35)
3. White Light (3:38)
4. Because Of You (4:03)
5. One In A Hundred (3:30)
6. For A Spanish Guitar (4:57)
7. Where My Love Lies Asleep (4:20)
8. Tears Of Rage (4:11)
9. 1975 (4:28)

CD Bonus Tracks
10. Because Of You (4:04)
11. Stand By Me (2:43)
12. Ship Of The Lord (2:52)
13. Opening Day (4:00)
14. Winter In (3:17)

The last time I checked, the year is 2007 and former Byrds lead singer Gene Clark is still the most underrated and under-valued singer/songwriter in music history. Every few years a new crop of young people discover artists like Big Star, The Stooges, 13th Floor Elevators, Velvet Underground, Nick Drake etc., yet Gene Clark's masterful solo recordings are not even on the radar. This simply must change, because Gene's solo records are so good I believe them to be the equal of anything Neil Young, Bob Dylan or Syd Barrett ever released.

Newcomers should head straight to The Byrds first 2 Lp's "Mr. Tambourine Man" & "Turn Turn Turn" to witness such greats as "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better", "If You're Gone", "Set You Free This Time" and others. Clark left The Byrds during the recording of The Byrds third album "5D" but hung around long enough the pen the epic "Eight Miles High" (and yes Gene later admitted the he really enjoyed Husker Du's radical 80's cover version.) Gene would later re-join The Byrds briefly during the recording of The Byrds classic "Notorious Byrd Brothers" album (he appeared with the group live on a 1967 episode of The Smothers Brothers show.) But sadly Clark's second stint with The Byrds would be extremely short lived.

Turning the clock back to 1966, Gene Clark virtually invented country-rock with his faultless debut album "Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers." This is an incredibly important album that is also extremely overlooked. The album's first single "Echoes" actually is an early example of the sophisticated pop fellow Los Angeles artists Love would explore later on their "Forever Changes" album. British singer Arthur Brown once made a comment about The Pretty Things, "They invented everything, and got credit for nothing", I think the same thing could be applied to Gene Clark.

After the failure of "Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers" Clark all but disappeared for a couple of years, he resurfaced in 1969 with an excellent but low-key affair with The Dillards member Doug Dillard. The duo issued two splendid albums before parting ways around 1970. In later years it would be another ex-Byrd Gram Parsons Gram Parsons who would garner most of the credit for inventing country rock, but it was pretty clear Gene Clark beat him to the punch, but got zero credit.

By 1971 it looked like Gene Clark's hard luck was about to change. Gene was signed to A&M records and the times appeared to be tailor-made to Gene's no-nonsense folk inspired material. With Neil Young, Cat Stevens & James Taylor riding high in the charts it seemed to be a matter of time before Gene Clark became a major star. Of course it didn't happen but it didn't stop Gene Clark from releasing the best record of his great career. "White Light" appeared in 1971 to glowing reviews but very little sales. Luckily for us fans it is now available on a German CD with the addition of some wonderful bonus tracks.

Upon listening to "White Light" it is pretty clear the material is influenced from the stripped to the bones approach Bob Dylan employed on his late 1967 album "John Wesley Harding." Most of the tracks have very simple arrangements that consist mainly of Clark's voice, acoustic guitar and harmonica. A few songs are slightly brightened with basic percussion and tasteful splashes of organ. "The Virgin" opens the record with a relaxed country feel, similar to his songs with Doug Dillard. The following number "With Tomorrow" is a brief but intense piece with just Gene and his acoustic guitar, this song has the same dark quality as The Beatles "Long, Long, Long" & Big Star's "Thirteen."

The title track "White Light" changes the tempo to an uplifting, country style, shuffle beat with an engaging melody and gentle use of harmonica, this might have been a hit if it had been pushed as a single. "Because Of You" goes deeply inward, this is a gorgeous ballad that is helped along with light percussion and a devastating helping of Hammond organ. This is easily one of the greatest songs Clark has ever written. "One In A Hundred" is one of the more commercial tracks on the album, this one features a full group arrangement with a tasteful use of slide guitar, this song also had serious hit potential.

The next track "For A Spanish Guitar" is another career highlight from Gene, this is a beautiful, haunting acoustic ballad that can send chills down your spine and tears to yours eyes, just incredible! "Where My Love Lies Asleep" is yet another beautiful slow ballad that brings to mind The Rolling Stones "No Expectations" and also Neil Young's "Motion Pictures", this number really achieves that dark night of the soul feeling, perfect for late night driving in the rain. A well preformed cover of Bob Dylan's "Tears Of Rage" follows that is easily of par with Dylan's original and also The Band's version. This song fits so perfectly on the record you could almost swear it was a Clark original. The closing piece on the original record "1975" reminds me of the superb track Family closed their classic 1969 album "Entertainment" called "Emotions." I would bet anything Clark had a copy of the Family album. "White Light" contains 9 songs and every last one is a drop dead classic!

A recent German CD of "White Light" contains 5 bonus tracks that make this fantastic album even better. These bonus tracks are far from locker room scraps and leaves the listener wondering why at least a few of the songs weren't included on the original album. An alternate take of "Because Of You" is pretty similar to the released version but I ain't complaining. A cover of Ben E. King's standard "Stand By Me" is perhaps unnecessary but is certainly not bad. "Ship Of The Lord" has a demo quality about it, but I still dig it. "Opening Day" is excellent and could have easily fit on the released edition of the album. "Winter In" sounds to me like an alternate version of "1975" but is pretty fine all the same.

I really can't understand why this album is not better known, especially at this late date. Let's hope this wonderful album doesn't languish in obscurity a moment longer. I feel very fortunate that I saw Gene Clark live in 1979 with Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman but sadly he didn't perform any of his solo material on that night. But at least I got to see this legendary artist once anyway. I can only hope his solo catalog begins to get the attention it so rightly desreves.

Also recommended in a similar style:

1. Gene Clark-Gene Clark With The Gosdin Brothers (Columbia 1966)
2. Gene Clark-Roadmaster (Edsel)
3. Gene Clark-No Other (Asylum 1974)
4. Grin-Grin (Spindizzy 1971)
5. Neil Young-On The Beach (Reprise 1974)
6. Stephen Stills-Manassas (Atlantic 1972)
7. Bryan MacLean-Ifyoubelievein (Sundazed 1997)
8. Jay Farrar-Sebastapol (Atremis 2001)
9. Crazy Horse-Crazy Horse (Reprise 1971)
10. My Morning Jacket-At Dawn (Darla 2001)
11. Dino Valente-Dino Valente (Epic 1968)
12. Moby Grape-Moby Grape '69 (Columbia 1969)
13. Flying Burrito Brothers-Flying Burrito Brothers (A&M 1971)
14. Nick Drake-Pink Moon (Island 1973)
15. Big Star-#1 Record (Ardent 1972)

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