Gene Clark – White Light (1971): Review

clark1

Produced by Jesse Davis
Label – A&M

Given that Gene Clark left The Byrds at their commercial peak in 1966, it seems odd that his solo career has been so often overlooked. The singer had penned classics such as “Feel A Whole Lot Better”, “Set You Free This Time” and a co-writing credit on “Eight Miles High”, but the rigors of the rock and roll lifestyle, embittered battles with the rest of the band and a reluctance to fly and tour led to the decision to venture new territory, which led to critically acclaimed country rock workouts with banjo player Doug Dillard and The Gosdin Brothers. By the turn of the decade a wave of interest in solo singer/songwriters such as Neil Young, James Taylor and Stephen Stills would leave the door ajar for Clark’s solo debut “White Light”. Along with members of The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Steve Miller Band, Clark recruited experienced producer Jesse Ed Davis to helm the recording. Predominantly acoustic, there’s a melancholia that runs through much of the material, with sparse electric lead, organ and harmonica to support Clark’s doleful strumming. His wistful baritone carries hints of his Byrds heritage, but there’s less of the celestial psychedelia and more of the earthy home town boy in both lean production and delivery.

clark

As with all of Clark’s material, the influence of Bob Dylan is never far away (particularly “John Wesley Harding”). Indeed, there’s an argument that some of the originality of his recordings are marked by an inability to venture far from the Dylan sonic and lyrical template, which at times sadly masks his unique talent. As if to highlight this, Clark’s cover of “Tears Of Rage” lacks the intimate, relaxed nature of the original that appeared on “The Basement Tapes” and feels auto-piloted, adding nothing to the original. Funnily enough, Dylan has stated that he’d wished he’d written “A Spanish Guitar”, the outstanding highlight of the record. The acoustic guitar melodies that glide over Clark’s gentle vocal and waltz rhythm justify buying the album for this track alone. Other moments to savor are the slow ballad “For Tomorrow”, the country tinged “For Tomorrow”, and the closer “1975”.

Overall, “White Light” is a generally fine debut, tediously haunted by too much reliance on a mentor Clark simply couldn’t shake off, and diminishes much of the unique flavor he was attempting to create.

7/10

Track Rating
1 – The Virgin (6)
2 – With Tomorrow (7)
3 – White Light (6)
4 – Because Of You (6)
5 – One In A Hundred (7)
6 – For A Spanish Guitar (9)
7 – Where My Love Lies Asleep (6)
8 – Tears Of Rage (6)
9 – 1975 (7)

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