Roger McGuinn’s first two post-Byrds solo albums were reissued in early 2004. The third, 1975’s Roger McGuinn & Band, while inherently flawed, is a marked improvement over its predecessor, the unfortunately titled Peace On You.
As its title suggests, the album is built around a cohesive band, a transplanted trio that had been working in Texas under the name Lone Star (they were augmented here by the bassist from Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band). Perhaps trying to rekindle the fractious dynamism of the original Byrds, McGuinn set aside his own artistic inclinations in favor of democratic rule — in large part because of record company expectations, and perhaps his own muddled instincts. There is a continuity of sound, although it’s squandered on lackluster material, with the presence of a keyboard player adding little to McGuinn’s strengths, even dating it in much the same way that other artists fell prey to the dreaded ’80s drum sound a decade later.
Finally, beware of any song that references the singer’s attachment to a musical genre. Case in point is McGuinn’s “Born To Rock And Roll”, a notion that would’ve been better served by simply rock ‘n’ rolling without saying so. The pair of live tracks appended the disc were recorded a year later and show that, while they were unable to settle in meaningfully in the studio, McGuinn and his cohorts continued to feel right at home onstage.
McGuinn’s tenure in Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue brought about an unexpected but surprisingly effective musical relationship. Former David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson had been a part of that sprawling crew, and when it came time for McGuinn to record his fourth album, Ronson signed on to produce and play guitar.
McGuinn also showed a renewed enthusiasm for writing; all tracks on Cardiff Rose were penned or adapted by him except for Dylan’s “Up To Me” and Joni Mitchell’s “Dreamland”, The band kicks up some serious dust, making a glorious racket out of “Rock And Roll Time” (remarkably redeeming themselves after the similarly titled song on the previous record), pulling off a confident pirate swagger on “Jolly Roger”, and taking Mitchell’s tune to the magical incendiary limit.
Alas, even with the goods in hand, commercial success was negligible. Subsequently McGuinn recorded one more album for Columbia, a backward step trying too hard to reclaim lost glories and issued under the band name Thunderbyrd.