After more than a decade apart, these three founding Byrds reconvened at the end of the ’70s. Rather than echoing the classic early Byrds, their collaboration resembled the bands of diminishing potency who had followed in their wake — Poco, Manassas, Firefall.
Roger McGuinn’s 12-string jangle is absent, though it really would have been completely out of place. This is an album of consummate craftsmanship. Sadly, that craftsmanship and its high luster production, along with the familiar resonance of the vocals, exceeds the primarily pedestrian songs.
Not only a product of its times, this album is also the result of three artists struggling to remain relevant in a changing marketplace. For the most part, that sadly familiar subtext carries more emotional wallop than the songs themselves. It’s quite clear that these songs were not merely wrestled into their various smooth rock shapes; the desire still to be marching in the frontlines during the dawning of the disco era is at the foundation of much of this record.
“Stopping Traffic” may be one of the lamest songs ever to bear Chris Hillman’s name. It could be subtitled, “Some of the money the Eagles have made should go to me.” In fairness, it’s really only against the backdrop of their previous work that this album pales. McGuinn, Clark & Hillman is better than average middle-of-the-road material, professionally rendered.
And, as with the Byrds, the material varies depending on who wrote it. Even on a slow day Gene Clark is a writer to be reckoned with, though his efforts here are partly misguided and never full throttle. His four entries include the simple but oddly eloquent “Little Mama” and the tropical flavored “Feelin’ Higher”. The former manages to exceed the low expectations its title may suggest; the latter does not.
In the cover photo, McGuinn sits in the center, his shirt unbuttoned halfway with its six-inch collars spread wide over his jacket. To his left, Clark isn’t even looking at the camera, cupping his hands around the cigarette he’s lighting, as if to say, “I’ll do this, but I’m barely into it.”