Gene Clark of The Byrds was not a successful solo artist. He left the band in 1966 after his role as a primary songwriter and rhythm guitarist was significantly diminished. Listening to any of his solo records, it’s clear that his songwriting skills make him deserving of a greater legacy than his contemporary reception as a lesser Byrd member. Rightfully, this attitude seems to have changed with recent critical appraisal of his 1974 masterpiece No Other, which was reissued in 2019 and received a 9.3 rating from Pitchfork. Their review paints a stark picture of Clark’s dire fate: “No money would go to promote the album and No Other tanked, all but ending Clark’s career. One of the most exquisite spiritual seekers in song, Clark was dead by the age of 46, ravaged by alcohol and heroin.”
Clark died in 1991, leaving behind a legacy that was more than just The Byrds and even more than No Other. White Light is an inspired acoustic/folk album that features one of my favorite Clark songs, “One in a Hundred”, which was also released in an alternate arrangement on 1973’s Roadmaster. The song’s lilting melody is matched by its delightfully 70s (read: hippie) lyrics: “Voices of time / bringing surprise / voices that sing in waking moments to look into life’s eyes.” Clark could be epic to a degree nearing overly-maudlin, but at other times was quite direct, such as on the lovely chorus of “Because of You”: “The sun I see only shines for me because of you.”
“For a Spanish Guitar” situates itself somewhere between Townes Van Zandt and Bob Dylan, which is pretty much exactly where you want to be if you’re recording a folk album in the early 70s. It’s a lost classic. Speaking of Dylan, White Light features a great cover of “Tears of Rage”, Dylan’s song that was famously played by The Band, Jerry Garcia Band, and probably 100 other people. Clark’s version features impassioned guitar playing (acoustic and electric!) and organ work that would make Garth Hudson proud.
White Light is so succinct that even though the reissue (the version you’ll find on Spotify) packs it with 5 bonus tracks, it barely passes the 50 minute mark. Imbued with a warmth amplified by the magic of early 70s recording technology, White Light is a classic that I’d recommend to any fan of folk or acoustic music.
Listen to White Light here.