Silent Troubadour - The Songs Of Gene Clark

Pete Mancini & Rich Lanahan

Paradiddle Records, 2023

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Albums catch my attention for a lot of different reasons. For one, when one of the key players is someone I already know and like. For another, when it seems like the album might further my never-ending musical education. This album fits squarely into both categories.

Pete Mancini of New York’s fertile Long Island music scene has been on my radar for a number of years now, as a solo artist and for his earlier work as frontman for Butchers Blind. He calls his favored style Americana power-pop, and the minute you have Americana in there, you know seminal American jangle-rock-and-harmony group The Byrds are part of the conversation. (The fact that Mancini opened his debut solo album Foothill Freeway with the Byrds/Gram Parsons tribute song "Sweethearts Of The Rodeo" is a pretty big clue, too.)

Rich Lanahan is a name I’m less familiar with, a fellow Long Island singer-songwriter-guitarist with a long career as a touring musician and member of various local alt-country bands, as well as a 2015 solo album called Dreamer’s Witness. What’s clear is that, while Lanahan might be a generation older than Mancini, he’s a fellow traveler with similar tastes and inclinations.

The two came together last year at the suggestion of Paradiddle Records chief Bill Herman to record a few tunes penned by a shared influence: Gene Clark, one of the co-founding singer-songwriters on The Byrds’ front line, along with Roger McGuinn and David Crosby. Lucky for us, these sessions blossomed from casual acoustic-duo jams to a full-blown, full-band tribute album.  

Silent Troubadour – The Songs Of Gene Clark features Lanahan on acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, and vocals; Mancini on acoustic guitar, bass, dobro, mandolin, and vocals; Herman on drums and tambourine; Eleanor Whitmore on fiddle, string arrangements, and vocals; and Chris Masterson on pedal steel. Herman, Mancini and Lanahan co-produce this album of nine covers and one Mancini original, and the vibe is pure love and admiration for the music being played.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The album draws on material from all phases of Clark’s career, from his early collaborations with the Gosdin Brothers, to his multiple forays with The Byrds, to his later work with the Dillards, Carla Olson and his various solo albums. What’s clear from start to finish is that Clark wrote songs of uncommon beauty that evoked a certain lonely, distinctly Western life, a solitary existence that he proceeds to paint with beautiful brushstrokes.

The album opens “Changing Heart,” a highlight from the otherwise ill-fated 1973 reunion of the original Byrds, with the natural little quaver in Lanahan’s voice reminding a bit of Willie Nelson as Mancini sings harmony alongside. Next is a big swing at late-career single “Gypsy Rider,” with the combination of strings and deeply strummed acoustic chords lending this very pretty tune a bold, symphonic air.

“Hear The Wind” is a walking contradiction, a mournful song of love and devotion that they give a stately arrangement, spotlighting Lanahan’s jangly electric leads. Mancini takes his first lead vocal on “Train Leaves Here This Morning,” lending the gently bounding song a plaintive cast in an arrangement that’s so spot-on Byrds that it feels strange not to find McGuinn and Crosby in the credits. An amiable celebration of wanderlust, it feels timeless. Then “She Don’t Care About Time” leads with a hearty jangle from Lanahan; it’s already authentic as anything before they get to playing the “Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring” solo that Roger McGuinn memorably inserted into the original Byrds version.  

The most familiar song on the album to most listeners may be “I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better,” a Byrds classic famously covered by Tom Petty on his Full Moon Fever album. While both the original and Petty’s cover set a high bar, Mancini (singing lead) and Lanahan (playing lead) bring enthusiasm and commitment to the task and do this one proud. Mancini stays at the mic for “Out On The Side,” another jangly, rather meditative mid-tempo number.

Early solo tune “Tried So Hard” brings a little honky-tonk into the rhythm section as Mancini strums and sings “And though I / Tried so hard to please her / She said she really had to go.” Ouch, that’s gonna sting. Lanahan sings lead on the trenchant, timeless-feeling “Full Circle,” charting the ups and downs of a life that inevitably resembles Clark’s own weaving, unsteady path through music and fame.

The album closes with its sole original, Mancini’s heartfelt tribute to Clark, “Silent Troubadour.” Framed with an earnest acoustic arrangement and cycling through references to multiple Clark songs, it’s a melancholy tale of a troubled yet creatively fertile life. The well-done liner notes by author Steve Matteo cover the essential points of Clark’s wide-ranging career, noting that “He possessed one of the most beautiful, aching vocal styles of any American musical artist of the mid-60s through the 70s… His place in the Byrds is often undervalued and overshadowed by his more well-known bandmates.”

Indeed, it’s a historical injustice that this album makes considerable strides toward correcting. Silent Troubadour – The Songs Of Gene Clark pays affectionate tribute to one of the most underappreciated talents of his generation, with Pete Mancini and Rich Lanahan giving their all to a set of songs that deserve every bit of the love they receive here.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2023 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Paradiddle Records, and is used for informational purposes only.