33 1/3: The Notorious Byrd Brothers by Ric Menck (Continuum Books)

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I’ve been particularly looking forward to reading this long-promised contribution to the series of little books about great albums. I adore the record—in fact, it was on my own shortlist of potential subjects, usurped when series editor David Barker encouraged me to poke a nose out of the comfortable sixties psych basement and write about Neutral Milk Hotel instead. If you’ve read more than a couple of 33 1/3 books, you know that they’re all very different, with each writer taking their own path to revealing the mysteries of their chosen favorite LP. As a working musician who once had his creative heart broken when a band on the way up suddenly crashed and burned, Velvet Crush drummer Menck has a rare capacity to recognize the emotional state likely effecting the individual Byrds in the years leading up to Notorious, arguably their best album, and also the most volatile. Coop-flown Byrd Gene Clark was hanging around the studio again, David Crosby left the band before it was completed, and increasingly inadequate drummer Michael Clarke was subject to terrible verbal abuse during the sessions (a brutal excerpt is on the CD reissue). The first half of the book is a mini-Byrds bio, so by the time the members are reaching around producer Gary Usher to rip each others’ bangs off, the reader has an intimate understanding of the tensions in the room, and can marvel all the more at the sonic beauties unfurled in so toxic an environment. The second half of the book is a track-by-track accounting of the album (and related outtakes), with all the geeky session notes a geeky fan could want. But with the biographical material and Menck’s interesting perspective, this one would be enjoyable for Byrds fans or neophytes alike. And drummers will especially appreciate Menck’s observations on this oft neglected part of the rock and roll sound.