Thursday, October 20, 2022

Starry Eyed And Laughing - Forever Young (1973-74 uk, spectacular early and unreleased recordings, 2014 issue)

Forever Young, a collection of studio and radio sessions (14 of the 18 previously unreleased) - is something of a treasure trove for anyone who has happy memories of Starry Eyed and Laughing. It also serves as a fascinating nugget for anyone interested in the evolution of country rock in the UK — a form that did go into hiding for a while but eventually re-emerged with folk such as Elvis Costello, Robyn Hitchcock, and Nick Lowe admitting to a fondness for some twang and jangling guitars. It captures early attempts by producer Dan Loggins to have the band perform covers of songs by Roger McGuinn, Steve Stills, Mike Nesmith and others, a plan that was nixed when the band demanded their album would be all their own work. In addition, there are previously unheard originals along with radio sessions. (Sadly, some of these only came to light following the death of their first manager.)

The cover versions are an intriguing lot. There’s a Byrds’-type cover of Dylan’s “Forever Young”, a new song back then but delivered as if it were a 1965 follow-up to “Mr. Tambourine Man”. The chiming guitars and McGuinn-like vocals are spot-on and a delight to listen to. McGuinn’s own “I’m So Restless” (from his solo debut) - is more cosmic country than the original, which had a folk base. Here, it sounds like The Byrds circa the Dr. Byrds and Mr Hyde album, with a wee bit of cosmic rocking going on. Similarly, Steve Stills’ “4+20″ has a psychedelic sheen to it. Listening to their version of Mike Nesmith’s “Propinquity” has the ability to transport the listener into an alternative reality where McGuinn and gang take over the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s mantle of champions of Papa Nez. as the 12-string corkscrews thorough this magnificent song.

If the cover versions were all that was here, then it might be safe to relegate the album into the curio cabinet. However the band’s own songs, while undoubtedly indebted to The Byrds’ sound and in particular the 12-string eclectic guitar jangle, stand proud after all these years. One can see the time line from them to the likes of The Long Ryders, carrying a banner for sure, but no mere copy. With three writers on board (Tony Poole, Ross McGeeney, and Iain Whitmore) - they offered up some treasures of their own.

“Miles Away” is a yearning, dreamlike swoon — more Gene Clark than McGuinn here. “Giving You the Blues” visits another Byrd’s territory, this time David Crosby, with its hypnotic scales and time changes. It’s superbly sung and spine-tingling. “Jet Plane Rider” has obvious links to “Eight Miles High”, but it’s an exhilarating listen in its own right. It’s almost spooky, mind you, how well the band were able to channel their influences. Their blossoming into their own right is portrayed on the barnstorming “(Just Like) - A Weepy Movie”. The keening ballad “So Tired” is adorned by marvellous harmonies and well able to pass muster with contemporary songs by the likes of Poco and even the Eagles. Finally, the alternative version of “In The Madness”, a song on their first album, shows that by then they had transcended their influences and were able to mark their territory with a song that soared high on vinyl way back then.
by Paul Kerr, February 2, 2015
1. Forever Young (Bob Dylan) - 3:54
2. I'm So Restless (Roger McGuinn) - 3:24
3. Miles Away (Iain Whitmore) - 3:15
4. Dancing Slow (Tony Poole) - 4:06
5. Givin' You The Blues (Iain Whitmore) - 3:31
6. Another You (Ross McGeeney) - 2:33
7. Jet Plane Rider (Tony Poole) - 4:07
8. 4 + 20 (Stephen Stills) - 2:54
9. (Just Like) A Weepy Movie (Iain Whitmore) - 3:50
10.Lay Down Your Weary Tune (Bob Dylan) - 3:32
11.Propinquity (I've Just Begun To Care) (Michael Nesmith) - 3:10
12.I Thought I Was A Child (Jackson Browne) - 3:26
13.So Tired (Iain Whitmore) - 3:45
14.In The Madness (Electric Version) (Ross McGeeney) - 2:54
15.He Was A Friend Of Mine (Roger McGuinn) - 2:45
16.Strangers All Over Again (Tony Poole) - 3:34
17.Meet Me Lord (At The Bottom Of The Hill) - (Ross McGeeney, Tony Poole, Norman Lawrence) - 3:15
18.You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (Bob Dylan) - 2:57 

Starry Eyed And Laughing
*Tony Poole - Vocals, 12-string Guitar, Organ
*Ross McGeeney - Vocals, 6 string Guitars
*Iain Whitmore - Vocals, Bass, Congas, Percussion
*Michael Wackford - Drums, Congas, Percussion
*Nick Brown - Drums, Percussion