While the recent Netflix documentary, “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story”, directed by Martin Scorsese, blurs actual concert footage with whimsical fabrication in the form of recollections by participants, Music Lovers thought it timely to reconsider an album, which in part was a result of that legendary 1970s tour by Dylan and a rambling collective of musicians and poets.
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James McGuinn At The Monterey Pop Festival. [Photography]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. https://quest.eb.com/search/115_2783859/1/115_2783859/cite
by Roger McGuinn And Band, 1976
Roger McGuinn, one of the key figures in 60’s rock music, had post Byrds, released a number of competent but quite unremarkable albums under the moniker of Roger McGuinn And Band. Invited to join Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, more a gypsy commune of ever changing travellers than a standard rock entourage, McGuinn chose to abandon the promotion of his own recently finished album and instead join the various musicians poets and playwrights, including Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Alan Ginsberg, Sam Shepard and Patti Smith as they rode the tour bus, often driven by Dylan himself.
Playing a host of small, out of the way venues often to crowds who wouldn’t ordinarily go to rock concerts, McGuinn found himself nightly sharing the stage with a revolving array of musicians including violinist, Scarlett Riviera, folk legend Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and perhaps most oddly, ex David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars guitarist, Mick Ronson.
As unlikely a musical collaboration between McGuinn and Ronson would seem given McGuinn’s trademark jangly electric 12 string sound and Ronson’s 70’s hard rock style, the two became friendly and when the Rolling Thunder road trip eventually ended, Ronson joined McGuinn in the studio to produce and play on McGuinn’s next album, “Cardiff Rose” (1976).
Opening track “Take Me Away” refers to the Rolling Thunder Revue,
“You should have been there when
The time was right for the music to begin,
You should have been there when
That band of gypsies started rollin’ in.
You’da swore for sure the circus came to town.
There were ladies ridin’ bareback
And the mystery man
All painted like a clown”.
Cardiff Rose is musically diverse, from the atmospheric touches of the sea shanty tale of piracy, “Jolly Roger” to the almost punk guitar sound of Ronson’s playing on “Rock And Roll Time”. Song wise the album is strengthened by contributions written by fellow Rolling Thunder alumni, Joni Mitchell, “Dreamland” and Dylan himself with “Up To Me”.
Cardiff Rose saw McGuinn’s enthusiasm return and his writing refreshed. Ronson’s sympathetic production meant the overall feel of the album swings between the punchy gritty sound of his own guitar playing to the chiming jangly chords which McGuinn perfected in The Byrds.
The album although moderately successful in sales, became not a masterpiece, but a critically acclaimed return to form for an iconic 60’s performer.