Dillard & Clark – The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark
Continuing from my previous post featuring the great songwriter and Byrds co-founder Gene Clark, today we’re celebrating the second Clark record after setting out on his own, though technically it’s not a solo album. The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark was released 50 years ago this month, just a couple of months after what is widely considered the seminal introduction to the country rock genre – the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo – and a few months after the lesser-known Safe at Home by Gram Parsons’ International Submarine Band. The album features a collaboration of Clark with banjo and fiddle virtuoso Doug Dillard of the famous bluegrass family and group, the Dillards, as well as future Burrito Brother and Eagle, Bernie Leadon.
I shared some background on Clark in my tribute here, and in Doug Dillard he found not only a freewheelin’ partner in crime in the emerging country rock genre, but also a fellow native of the Show Me State of Missouri. Dillard (1937-2012) hailed from Salem, a couple of hilly hours away from Clark’s hometown of Tipton. The Dillards were an established bluegrass act in the early 1960’s when they landed a recurring role as the fictional bluegrass group The Darlings on the Andy Griffith Show, appearing at various times from 1963-66.
This first Dillard and Clark album was a collaborative effort. Though Clark took on the bulk of the songwriting, credits were shared with the multi-instrumentalist Dillard, as well as Leadon, who added banjo and guitar – the connection being Leadon’s previous involvement in the same San Diego teen bluegrass band as future Byrds member and Clark band mate Chris Hillman, who also contributes mandolin on two tracks on this album.
Due to the group’s personnel and timing of its release, The Fantastic Expedition… has understandably been compared with the Byrds great country rock achievement, not to mention that of the Flying Burrito Bros. the following year. No doubt, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, this Dillard and Clark debut, and the Gilded Palace of Sin make for a great triple listening experience. But whereas the Byrds and Burritos albums lean heavily on the pure country element, The Fantastic Expedition… features more of a bluegrass flavor complimented by vintage country.
This album flows beautifully. While Sweetheart of the Rodeo, as great as it is, does sound to me like a rock band playing country – especially on the tracks where McGuinn’s vocals are recorded over Parsons’ original takes – Dillard and Clark sound more seasoned at what they were doing, and they were. In his AllMusic review, Mark Deming writes, “…they created a mature and confident sound that was exciting, thoughtful, and deeply soulful in a way those better-known albums were not.”
Have a listen to the opening track, Clark’s Out on the Side, for example. I wrote in an earlier post that I don’t comprehend exactly what Gram Parsons’ term “Cosmic American Music” means, but crank this track or listen through headphones. Its harmonies and heavy-yet-quiet pattering drums are as “cosmic” as anything you’ll hear in the country rock genre. Frankly, the same goes for the the second song, She Darked the Sun, with its lyric:
She walked into my life with her cold evil eyes
With the length of her mind she darked the sun
From there the tracks vary in tempo, and it’s hard to imagine the musicians having anything but a great time laying them down. The whole album is a perfect combination of virtuoso playing and some of the strongest singing of Gene Clark’s career. Other favorites for me are Train Leaves Here This Morning – a song which makes me think of riverboats on the Mighty Mississippi during simpler times – featuring Donald Beck’s mandolin, With Care from Someone and The Radio Song, both with Andy Belling’s cool electric harpsichord, and In the Plan with its fantastic harmonies.
Because of Clark’s refusal to tour due to his fear of flying, Dillard and Clark’s live presence was limited to a few notoriously drunken performances at L.A.’s Troubadour. They would follow-up with a second and final album a year later which was less acclaimed but still very good. As a common theme running throughout the work of Gene Clark, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark was a bolt of lightning and clap of thunder that relatively few people saw or heard. It came about as a result of informal jamming between Gene and Doug, and with the rest of the band they fine tuned their sound into something timeless. Again from AllMusic’s Deming:
Time has been kinder to this album than most of the genre’s founding works, and it’s a work rooted in tradition while reveling in freedom and new ideas and making the most of them all.
- Out on the Side
- She Darked the Sun
- Don’t Come Rollin’
- Train Leaves Here This Morning
- With Care from Someone
- The Radio Song
- Git It On Brother
- In the Plan
- Something’s Wrong