Classic Americana Albums: Gene Clark “No Other” (Asylum, 1974)

Missouri born Gene Clark’s epitaph beautifully reads: ‘No Other’, the title of his 1974 magnum opus. It would be fair to say that fortune was not kind to Clark, his early demise at the age of 46 hastened by alcohol and drug dependency. In his few short years as a member of the legendary Byrds he wrote the glorious, ‘I’ll Feel A Whole Better’ and co-wrote the proto-psychedelic, ‘Eight Miles High’. Much has been made of the fact that it was a fear of flying that influenced him to leave the group at the height of their fame, though it is also true that Clark was a restless soul wanting to explore new directions through his own unique voice and vision. 

The first of these explorations became the 1967 release of, ‘Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers’, merging country and bluegrass; his former bandmates were later to join forces with Gram Parsons to record, ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ but Clark was a seminal influence in merging the music from these genres. Next came a collaboration between Clark and banjo supremo, Doug Dillard, recording the albums, ‘The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark’ and ‘Through the Morning, Through the Night’. The influence of these albums on the Americana genre should not be underestimated, testament to which is the fact that 38 years after its 1969 release, the title track of, ‘Through the Morning Through the Night’, was performed by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant on their 2007, ‘Raising Sand’ album.

After the Dylanesque solo album, ‘White Light’, Clark released what was to become his masterpiece, ‘No Other’. Hugely expensive to record, this release, like its predecessors, failed to achieve commercial success. At the time the expenditure on studio time was seen as excessive and self-indulgent, causing short-sighted critics to react unfavourably and the record label to delete it from their catalogue after a couple of years. This must have been a bitter blow to Clark who had poured his heart and soul into the album only to be faced with a tirade of unjustified criticism. Phoenix-like, the album resurfaced over time gaining more insightful critics and new fans; the latest box set release from 4AD fittingly giving it the stature it deserves.

Clark brings his rich vibrato, a spirit of yearning and mystical lyrics to ‘No Other’. This is a twisting, turning journey through which he explores his inner space and that around him. Gram Parsons talked about Cosmic American Music; on ‘No Other’ it flows from the soul of Clark as though he understood its source and meaning.

The songs were pieced together in the Northern Californian community of Mendocino whilst Clark gazed out at the extremities of the Pacific Ocean which can be felt on the expansiveness of the centrepiece track, ‘Some Misunderstanding’. Clark languorously sings the opening line, “There’s been some misunderstanding and I’d like to put it right”; in the light of the original unfavourable reception the album received, its almost as if Clark is responding to the critics with this song, urging them to listen more carefully. The instrumental appearing in the middle and end of the song swirl around the listener in an almost mesmeric way.

‘Life’s Greatest Fool’ creates an upbeat country tempo subsequently layering a backing choir for good measure, taking the track beyond its opening expectations. ‘Silver Raven’ asks, “Have you seen the old world dying, which was once what new worlds seem”? a lyric which has a sadly contemporary feel. The slide guitar solo has a uniquely ethereal quality that captures the spirit of this song.

‘No Other’, the title track, has a strong ’70s, spaced-out, west-coast rock feel augmented by a funky edge. The lyrics reflect on the nature of oneness, change and consciousness, all very much in the mode of American Cosmic Music. The Crosby, Stills and Nash-like vocal intro to ‘Strength of Strings’ leads into a song that indicates a newfound sense of peace that Clark may have found.

‘From a Silver Phial’ is a majestic track that needs to be heard loud to savour the superbly produced wall of instrumental and vocal harmonies. ‘True One’ transitions to more country feeling territory seeing Clark searching for truth in the haze of ’70s California. The closing track, ‘Lady of the North’ captures the albums dreamlike quality, blending wah-wah pedal with fiddle and bringing things to a fitting conclusion.

‘No Other’ will weave its tendrils around the listener creating a bond which is hard to break. Time has been kind to this music, allowing it space to mature and ripen, in fact, becoming a Classic Americana Album.

Author: Richard Phillips

From the leaden skies of Manchester to the sunny uplands of Cheshire, my quest is for authentic Americana. Love live music, my acoustic guitar and miss my baby (grand piano).

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