Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: The Quarter After, Changes Near

For awhile I thought I was the only one.  When the Byrds burst on the scene with their version of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” I was enthralled and thought folk rock was an exciting new kind of music.  Roger McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker!  And those vocals!  Heaven.  I had recently tuned in to John Coltrane so I was right there with them when the Byrds released “Eight Miles High”.  But then came the turn to country music under the influence of bluegrass-playing bassist Chris Hillman and new addition Gram Parsons culminating in Sweetheart of the Rodeo.  That album is widely cited and admired as one of the foundations of country rock but all I could think was “what happened to these guys?”  What had happened was that the combination of changing personnel and an uncommonly open eared set of core musicians had moved in a direction I wasn’t prepared to follow.  I just never could get into the “pure” country stuff and the more traditional it got, the less interest it held for me.  The Byrds’ country rock is held in very high esteem today and as I read the ever-growing adulation of Gram Parsons and the reverent tones with which Sweetheart is discussed in the music press I began to think I was alone in preferring the early band’s music. Apparently not.

As far as I can tell The Quarter After’s Changes Near is the album the Byrds would have made if the original group had stayed together after Turn! Turn! Turn! and kept Hillman’s country leanings in check.  The band has perfectly nailed the Byrds’ folk rock and psychedelic rock sound.  And I mean perfectly.  The raga-influenced drone rock, the hints of 1960’s-era jazz, the superb vocal harmonies and that signature Rickenbacker 12-string sound are all there.  Of the twelve tracks on the album, one (“Counting the Score”) does the country thing and although a pedal steel shows up here and there on other tracks, the rest of the album is devoted to the original Byrds sound and styles of music.

Often when a band turns to the music of their forebears for inspiration they end up making pale copies of the original music.  That’s not the case here.  The Quarter After don’t sound so much like they’re copying the Byrds as picking up the ball where the Byrds dropped it and carrying on.  Although Changes Near has numerous moments when I felt the hair on the back of their neck rise from the precision with which The Quarter After captures the Byrds, I never felt like this was just a band copying somebody else. 

Maybe it’s because I loved the early Byrds and have always felt that they abandoned their unique music long before they had exhausted its possibilities that I’ve enjoyed Changes Near so much.  If Sweetheart of the Rodeo is your favorite Byrds album you may find little of interest in The Quarter After’s music.  But if you really like those first three Byrds albums do not miss Changes Near.  It’s terrific.


07/13/2008 - Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , ,

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