It’s hard to believe the rehabilitation of the tattered legacy of Gene Clark has taken so long to instigate. The ultimate image of 1965 cool, Clark — with his brooding, velvety voice and a sackful of moody, introspective, unforgettable songs such as “Feel A Whole Lot Better” and “Set You Free This Time” — was a seminal figure in folk-rock, country-rock, bluegrass-rock, and even psychedelia (via the classic “Eight Miles High”).
But while Clark left the Byrds early on and soon stumbled into dark decades of erratic genius crossed with a streak of self-destructiveness, proteges such as the Eagles, CSNY and a host of lesser lights (Firefall, anyone?) were dominating ’70s FM playlists with a watered-down version of the real thing.
Clark, meanwhile, remained an enigma. Despite works of unparalleled brilliance — especially the ungodly dark beauty of 1974′s No Other, the work of a visionary artist pushing the envelope, and to a lesser extent White Light, a purely poetic, acoustic, and unjustly ignored singer-songwriter album — Clark really never broke out of his cycle of near misses, tough luck, bad timing, and commercial dead-ends.
His more ambitious, post-Byrds works are all but ignored on this tribute compilation. Instead, it’s that sepia-toned 1965 Clark, tambourine in hand, Beatle haircut, with Roger McGuinn’s Rickenbacker at the ready, that’s celebrated on Full Circle. It’s a veritable jangle-fest, with today’s power-pop underground diving into Clark’s back pages with gusto.
While there’s nothing wrong with that, many tracks achieve that “Well, it’s pretty good, but why listen to it when you can go back to the original versions?” feeling. That said, Full Circle is clearly a labor of love. A heartfelt vocal by Clark’s bother Rick marks “Del Gato”; son Kai Clark contributes an original piece written for his dad; and a heartbreakingly poignant effort by Gene’s sometime duet partner, former Textone Carla Olson, titled “After The Storm” strikes the perfect balance so many of Clark’s late-period ballads achieved: introspective melancholy lifted by a yearning for spiritual transcendence.
Inevitably, it’s the less-familiar ’60s-era numbers that hit home. The Retros’ version of the obscure “Long Time” is pure mid-’60s pop, a rollercoaster track that would have fit right in on Younger Than Yesterday. Walter Egan’s take on “The Reasons Why” is unbearably addicting, Clark the songwriter at his McCartneyesque best. Australian Michael Carpenter’s lead track, the 1968 outtake “That’s Alright By Me”, strikes a suitably rustic tone, a groove in which Gene would’ve felt right at home.
Among the more adventurous covers, ex-Sidewinder Rich Hopkins and his band the Luminarios’ “If You’re Gone” takes the Clark canon in the most intriguing direction, angling toward a fuzzed-out, Crazy Horse soundscape on “If You’re Gone”. Popster Chris Von Sneidern has the audacity to tackle a piano-laced “From A Silver Phial”, from No Other, and manages to capture a bit of that album’s epic sound. On the other hand, ex-Long Ryder Sid Griffin’s stripped down stab at Dillard & Clark’s sumptuous baroque/bluegrass single “Why Not Your Baby” merely plods, and loses its sublime point/counterpoint melody in the process.
Still, Full Circle does a better of job than most tributes of capturing the spirit of the artist, and for that, it can hardly be faulted.