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Gene Clark | s/t aka White Light (Universal)
A generation of children was cruelly robbed by A&M's failure to properly promote Gene Clark's second, self-titled solo masterpiece in 1972. Listening to the album for the first time, you feel cheated - this is a record that should have nestled alongside 'Sweet Baby James', 'Moondance' and 'Harvest' in our parents' outmoded collections, to be dusted down on quiet Sunday evenings after a day in the park. This is a record we should have grown up on. The album 'Gene Clark' (the intended title, 'White Light' was abandoned due to a sleeve printing error) was its creator's big chance to prove himself following a pair of well-received but commercially unpopular experiments with 'newgrass' in the company of Doug Dillard. It was perfectly timed - the California singer-songwriter boom was in full swing, and Gene's old compadres The Byrds were once more flying high with their late peak 'Untitled'. The stripped-down sound that Clark pioneered was once more fashionable, and Neil Young's soul-exposing lyricism was making grown men weep from sea to shining sea. It seemed as though Gene's day had finally come. So what went wrong? On first listen, it's easy to dismiss the album as simply a roundup of Dylan-inspired singer-songwriter clichés - the portentous, semi-apocalyptic lyrical flourishes of White Light, the bongos on Because Of You directly appropriated from Lay Lady Lay. There's even a Dylan cover, Tears Of Rage, recorded in much the same fashion by The Band a few years earlier. But there's a sensitivity here that only reveals itself on repeated listens, a warmth and spaciousness that Dylan, for all his other talents, rarely achieved. It's telling that Tears of Rage, one of its author's most complex and emotional songs, fits this record perfectly, not disturbing the fragile equilibrium, the tightrope between sweetness and sadness that Clark walks with deceptive ease. One forgets that he damn near invented this stuff, had been writing for almost as long as the Master himself. So, another lost classic rediscovered, and another forgotten '60's idol, another Nick Drake, another Mike Nesmith rescued from anonymity, (temporarily, at least). Let's hope he finally gets the respect he deserves.
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002