Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Gosdin Brothers- Sounds of Goodbye (1968)

Despite a strong association with the Byrds, the Gosdin Brothers' progressive blend of bluegrass and country-rock never found its way to a popular audience, though Vern Gosdin would later become one of country's more acclaimed vocalists. Vern and Rex Gosdin grew up on a farm in Woodland, AL -- two of nine children -- and started singing together after discovering the Louvin Brothers. They performed regularly on local radio as teenagers, and moved to the Los Angeles area in 1961, where they joined a bluegrass group called the Golden State Boys. Chris Hillman was a member prior to joining the Byrds, and the group later changed its name to the Hillmen. When Hillman departed, the Gosdin Brothers teamed up to form their own outfit, and sometimes served as the Byrds' opening act. Additionally, when Gene Clark left the Byrds for a solo career, he teamed up with Vern and Rex to record the 1966 album Gene Clark With the Gosdin Brothers, an influential proto-country-rock effort. the Gosdin Brothers subsequently scored a deal with Capitol, and had their only chart single with 1967's "Hangin' On." Their first and only album, Sounds of Goodbye, was released in 1968, and its brand of country owed much to Clark and the Byrds' influence. The Gosdins opened for Merle Haggard on tour, and the Byrds recorded Vern's "Someone to Turn To" for the soundtrack of Easy Rider in 1969, but the overall lack of exposure proved too frustrating, and the brothers disbanded in 1970. Vern moved to Atlanta and ran a glass business before returning to music in 1976; this time the charts were kinder, and he ran off a string of country hits that lasted into the early '90s, when health problems curtailed his performing activities. Rex, too, mounted a solo career, but was less successful, and passed away in 1983.

The Gosdin Brothers' obscure 1968 LP Sounds of Goodbye is an overlooked country-rock milestone, and one that owes as much to the sound of the 1966-1967 era Byrds as it does to country music. That's unsurprising, perhaps, given that the Gosdins helped out a lot on Gene Clark's debut solo album in 1967, and sometimes shared bills with the early Byrds, as they shared the same management. In truth, this will appeal far more to the early Byrds fan than to the straight country fan. That's not damning with faint praise, far from it; it's actually high praise. It's a fair guess, too, that anyone who likes Gene Clark's early work will enjoy this record, as it has a similar low-key, hurt, vulnerable mystique to the melodies, vocals, and harmonies. The material, though sometimes average, is also sometimes outstanding, as on "Love at First Sight," which actually comes quite close to the classic 1966 Byrds jangle rock sound; the melancholy, graceful "She's Gone," with the kind of unexpected compelling chord changes you'd expect from the Gene Clark songwriting school; and "The Victim," with its pungent burned-by-love lyrics, and an odd (though not displeasing) dash of psychedelic echo on the chorus. The covers cast an eclectic net ("Catch the Wind," "Let It Be Me," the Everly Brothers' "Bowling Green") and are not as distinctive as the originals, but even so there's an excellent reading of Ewan MacColl's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face."

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