Have to admit it. I was trepidatious regarding this release. Aside from the Wainwright/McGarrigle clan, precious few artists offspring have produced much to write home about, so news that Gene Clark’s son, Kai, was releasing an album of his father’s songs was a worrying prospect. Clark’s star has been in the ascendant over the past few years, sadly, too late for him, with a slew of unreleased recordings and renewed critical acclaim (in particular for his “lost” masterpiece, No Other) allowing him more positive press than he ever had in his lifetime. Thankfully, Clark Jnr. does his father proud here with a judicious song selection (some favourites – Mr. Tambourine Man, Eight Miles High, bona fide classics – Silver Raven, Polly and some deeper cuts). In addition, his voice has a slight touch of his father (must be the genes!) and he has enlisted Carla Olson to sing on several of the songs.
The song selection covers his career from The Byrds to Clark’s final recordings. Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn! don’t vary much from the original arrangements but have a fine robust punch to them. Eight Miles High however sounds somewhat sludgy in comparison to the mercurial original (as do all covers aside from Husker Du’s) but when Kai turns to one of the highlights of The Byrds’ first album, Here Without You, you catch a glimpse of Clark’s majesty and it’s perfectly played and sung here.
Moving on from the Byrds, Kai Clark has some more leeway to play around with and he starts off with an excellent rendition of I Found You which is punkier, almost as if it were a 1966 Arthur Lee snarling the words. Kansas City Southern rolls into town with an insouciant bar band swagger and Train Leaves Here This Morning is given a wonderful and woozy back porch country rock delivery with an old buddy of Gene’s, Byron Berline, adding fiddle. Polly, from the Dillard and Clark album, Through the Morning, Through the Night, sparkles with its cosmic pedal steel and ringing Rickenbacker chimes.
Silver Raven (the first song of his father’s that Kai learned) is given due reverence given its provenance but it has to be said that the son turns in a pretty powerful performance with slide guitar wailing away over some fine family harmonies. However, the best performances here lie in the latter songs. Gypsy Rider (again with Berline on fiddle and with Carla Olson reprising her original role) is both thrilling and chilling. Your Fire Burning, a posthumous release, closes the album properly (Eight Miles High is listed as a bonus track) and as the liner notes state, “Is perhaps the most poignant evidence we have that, at the time of his passing, Gene Clark’s music was hitting new heights of artistic brilliance.”
Kudos then to Kai Clark for this fine reflection on his father’s genius. The album stands on its own two feet and if you are a Gene Clark fan it’s certainly worth a listen while a casual listener might find it an intriguing entry point into the Gene Clark rabbit hole.