Darker My Love | Alive As You Are
Most Likely To: get eight miles high with some sweethearts at a rodeo.
Well, what a surprise this is! There was no advance word whatsoever that the surviving Byrds were planning a reunion album, nor that they would sneak it out under a different name. It’s odd that they chose the name Darker My Love, given that there already is a band operating under that name–the Los Angeles combo who a couple of years ago released that “Two Ways Out” song, which was pretty cool even if it was just a slowed down version of “Alright” by Supergrass.
But whatever their reasons for the subterfuge, it does this old heart good to hear McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman together again and releasing new material, occasionally joined by Gene Parsons on the more countrified numbers. It doesn’t quite measure up to their classic stuff, but really, could anything? The Byrds flew in that rarefied air that very few bands ever reach and if anyone were to claim that they were the greatest American band of the sixties, one would be hard pressed to prove them wrong. So God bless ‘em and welcome back, boys.
It gives one goosebumps when the band kicks into an easy country rock gait on the opening “Backseat” as if the nearly forty years since their last album had never passed. But that’s nothing compared to when McGuinn’s trademark Rickenbacker chime announces the arrival of “Split Minute,” a return to the glorious folk rock of their classics like “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “The Bells of Rhymney.” Really nice stuff, as is most of the rest of the album, as it reminds the listener of how many genres they Byrds either invented or perfected, from their original electric folk to the country-rock that still defines the California sound for many people to this very day.
The Byrds were the only other American band that the Velvet Underground had any use for, and it’s nice to hear them return that respect on “18th Street,” which plays like a tip of the hat to the Velvets’ “Run Run Run” crossed with The Byrds’ own psychedelic phase, and it’s fun to hear McGuinn aping Sterling Morrison aping himself.
It’s also really nice to hear them tip their hat to the late Gene Clark on “Trail the Line.” Clark didn’t live to see this reunion, but the rest of the band made sure that he was here in spirit, at least, churning out the sort of folk rock winner that Clark excelled at. It’s touches like this that demonstrate the Byrds’ generosity of spirit and why it’s so nice to have them back. Bravo, guys, and godspeed.
One does wonder what the actual Darker My Love make of all this, though. Did the Byrds get their permission before releasing this album? Or will there be some ugly court cases in the works? I sure hope not. I prefer to think that the old veterans invited the younger band into the studio during the recording sessions to observe and learn.
Hopefully Darker My Love would take advantage of such an opportunity and incorporate anything they learned with music bearing their own personal stamp. It would be a shame if all they picked up from studying the greats would be how to imitate them so slavishly no one would be able to detect even a trace of their own personality in the course of things.
Watch Darker My Love perform “Backseat” live: