Mr. Hyde - a name loading a meaning both in a literary and a
musical sense. Where Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel deals with the duality
of human existence with its gothic kind of doppelganger theme, rock music fans
will immediately think of one particular band when they hear this name - The
Byrds. And that's because this extremely influential group from California chose
"Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde" as the title of their 1968 LP, the first one
officially featuring new members Clarence White/Gene Parsons and the current
Taxim artist John York. It might not be considered as their best album, but
it still ranks amongst the batch of albums that are canonised as classic Byrds.
Music that belongs in every decent collection of classic rock and country rock.
Which leads us to a new CD by a band with the name Mr. Hyde, whose album attempts
to be both: an artistic homage to the classic sounds of the Byrds, Flying Burrito
Brothers, Poco, Uncle Jim's Music and the early Eagles - and a presentation
of a band with an authentic and unique character of its own making. So is this
a case of old Stevenson's doppelganger theme here, at work in a musical sense?
That is exactly the case.
So who's behind Mr. Hyde? It is a group of distinguished first generation country rock veterans from the late '60s. First in line is guitarist and steeler Boomer Castleman, an old buddy of the late Gram Parsons. In 1967 he and country rocker Michael Murphey founded the Lewis & Clarke Expedition - today considered a cult group with some commercial success. The indispensable 12-string Rickenbacker electric is played by Bob Hatter, whose personal fascination for the sound of the Byrds goes back to seeing the band live at Chicago's Arie Crown Theater in 1965. Even if Bob Hatter's career cannot be associated with famous names so far, the in-crowd considers him to be one of the most capable proprietors of this classic style of electric guitar playing. Bob's guitar is an integral part of Mr. Hyde. Drummer Rick Lonow has been around as well and has played with versions of FBB and Poco and also the late lamented Richard Manuel and Nicolette Larson. Last but not least, Chris James completes this quartet of fine players. He's also the initiator of this project. Encouraged by the legendary Al Perkins, who raved about the band's first performances, Chris James turned a loose aggregate into a tight unit, losing founding member Scott Baggett foro studio work. Chris James' singing has an uncanny similarity to McGuinn and he's an excellent songwriter.
Mr. Hyde really know how to re-create the classic country rock and folk sounds that are associated with the bands already mentioned. They're retro, but not stale or simple-minded. Their harmonies are full of soul and they lack the artificial sheen of later Eagles material. They also miss the rough and undistinguished vocal sounds of many other, less capable country-rockers. These guys just know how to do it right - just like the early Gin Blossoms they know how to create some welcome associations to a specific kind of rock history without being classified as second-hand retro rockers. There's not a shortage of bands working in the roots-rock/Americana section of the market today, but a band like Mr. Hyde can hold their ground. Because they're passionate and authentic. And they know how to play.
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