Subtitled ‘A Progressive Country Anthology’, this excellent set might be noteworthy solely for its brace of rootsy – and rare – 1969 cuts from The Everly Brothers. But the presence of four won’t-find-’em-anywhere-else tracks from The Byrds’ preternaturally talented guitarist Clarence White – recorded in June 1973, just two weeks before his death – have given Silver Meteor elevated status in country rock circles. After The Byrds’ dissolution in late ’72, White secured a solo deal with Warners, and set about pioneering a startling brand of bluegrass and rock with fiddler Byron Berline, guitarist Herb Pederson and mandolin ace (and brother) Roland White. The results – including “Why You Been Gone So Long” with Ry Cooder on slide – are consistently astonishing, and hint all-too-briefly at the directions ’70s country might have taken.
EXPECT TO PAY: £30, including shipping – it’s a US-only release
Music For A New Society
(Ze/Island, 1982; Rhino, 1994)
Even by the frequently disturbing standards of Cale’s many previous excursions into territories of dread and disconsolation, Music For A New Society was daunting, a blasted requiem for an unravelling world and the victims of insane times. It is, in many ways, Cale’s masterpiece.
That Music For A New Society is not currently in catalogue is inexplicable. Rhino US licensed the album from Cale, but the term of that licence expired in 2004. Imagine logging onto Amazon to order Blood On The Tracks or Astral Weeks for someone who’d never heard them and discovering they’d been deleted without explanation. You’d be stupefied. Another equivalent would be finding out that someone had taken a tin of whitewash and a very big brush to Picasso’s Guernica, making it disappear beneath a layer of blank undercoat.
His previous album, 1981’s Honi Soit, itself now only available as a download, had been a loud, abrasive essay in apocalyptic paranoia, full of squalling guitars and a turbulent sonic mayhem that would be replaced on Music For A New Society by a kind of symphonic minimalism.
With the exception of “Changes Made”, which featured a full band, with Blue Öyster Cult’s Allen Lanier on lead guitar, the songs on the album – most of them improvised in the studio – featured not much more than Cale’s handsome Baptist tenor set against brutal reductions of the kind of arrangements he had provided 14 years earlier for Nico’s The Marble Index.
There were moments of startling poignancy, among them the exquisite “Broken Bird” and “Chinese Envoy”, and a wracked new version of “I Keep A Close Watch”, an anguished ballad from 1975’s Helen Of Troy. Elsewhere, darkness and violence loomed in livid tandem. “Taking Your Life In Your Hands” and the hugely unsettling “If You Were Still Around” starkly explored three of Cale’s favourite themes: nostalgia, murder and madness. But the album’s grim centrepiece was the long, agonised “Sanities” (originally titled “Sanctus”, but mistakenly re-titled on the album sleeve), on which over an aloof, majestic keyboard drone and fragmenting percussion, Cale’s possessed narration evoked disaster on all fronts, ending with an ominous prediction of terrible things to come, the bleak promise of “a stronger world, a stronger loving world. . . to die in.”
EXPECT TO PAY: £70-plus from some chancers online, unless you fancy a cassette copy on eBay?