These are giddy days for fans of that gentle genre, folk rock. Columbia Records recently released a marvelous four-CD retrospective of the Byrds. McGuinn, the leader of that seminal '60s band, has resurfaced with this stirring collection, his first in more than a decade, and there has been talk about him rejoining fine-feathered friends David Crosby and Chris Hillman—a reunion that Crosby's motorcycle accident may delay.
The pleasures of McGuinn's music all come rushing back with the first song. "Someone to Love." Listen to the chiming electric and acoustic guitars, the sad but intrepid melody, the ethereal but economical harmonies and McGuinn's distinctive voice—muffled, straining, slightly flat—and see if you don't experience déjà vu. Or is that déjà entendu?
Speaking of harmonies, check out the deep background on "Suddenly Blue" provided by Michael Penn, Crosby and Hillman (who fronts the Desert Rose Band). McGuinn has lots of famous helpers here. Elvis Costello adds a song, "You Bowed Down," and his voice. Tom Petty, who has always worn his Byrds influence on his sleeve, co-wrote and duets with McGuinn on "King of the Hill," one of the record's best tracks. Petty's band, the Heartbreakers, is also represented by Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench and Stan Lynch.
Campbell and McGuinn co-wrote "Car Phone." on which he cleverly quotes from the Byrds hit "Eight Miles High" on his guitar solo. The slower songs, such as "Without Your Love," carry a reverent mood familiar to McGuinn followers. (Well, the God's-lips-to-Roger's-ear connection has never been one to scoff at.)
We could all do without the environmental screed "The Trees Are All Gone," but there's little wasted motion on Back from Rio. McGuinn is still a strong and singular song stylist. (Arista)