THE BYRDS remain one of the most influential bands in rock 'n' roll history. Roger McGuinn's revolving cast of characters managed to launch not one but two major genres: first folk-rock and then country-rock.
McGuinn and such cohorts as Gram Parsons, Gene Clark, David Crosby and Chris Hillman proved just how powerful hillbilly music could be in a rock context, and singer-guitarists have been following their lead ever since. Just consider these recent examples:
THE MEAT PUPPETS --
"Huevos" (SST 150). The Meat Puppets began as an Arizona hardcore punk trip but have evolved into a country-rock version of the Replacements. Like the Replacements' Paul Westerberg, the Puppets' Curt Kirkwood writes songs with irresistible melodies, sloppy arrangements and unsettling honesty. The biggest difference is that Kirkwood adapts his catchy guitar riffs from the West's cowboy-rock tradition instead of from garage-rock.
"Huevos" is the Meat Puppets' most assured and convincing record yet. The quirky, unpredictable lyrics offer a fresh angle on such worn-out topics as starving farmers, skid-row bums, failed love and masturbation. The Appalachian-like melodies seem to float atop a thick cloud of rumbling drums, droning bass and chunky guitar with hypnotic effect.
THE WOODS --
"It's Like This" (Twin Tone TTR 87118). This North Carolina trio (formerly known as the Woodpeckers) used to play with Don Dixon, Marti Jones and the Georgia Satellites' Dan Baird. This debut album recycles the Southeast's omnipresent variation of the Byrds' folk-rock, but the band's drummer Terry Anderson (who wrote "Battleship Chains," included here) and guitarist David Enloe write such catchy, unassuming pop gems that they revitalize the genre. They sound like the best Carolina act since the dBs, whose twisted-Beatles approach they share.
THE REIVERS --
"Saturday" (DB/Capitol CLT-46926). This Texas quartet was known as Zeitgeist until a lawsuit forced them to take a new name. The ringing guitars and soaring vocal harmonies of their second album clearly echo the Byrds, but the rhythm section hits with such aggressive force that the band's post-punk roots are obvious as well. As he has so many times before, producer Don Dixon makes this combination click. Guitarist John Croslin's songs offer a similar blend of introspection and confrontation, and bassist Cindy Toth adds harmony pleasure to Croslin's deadpan delivery.
RICHARD TAYLOR & THE RAVERS --
"Front Page News" (Run Wild RW-300). After several fine EPs, this Baltimore quartet has released its first full-length album with a new Alexandria record company. Taylor pays worthy tribute to Chuck Berry on half a dozen original songs about fast cars and faster women that boast bar-tested guitar hooks and cleverly twisted lyrics. The best songs, though, are the Byrd-like folk-rock numbers; they build strong moral fables out of reverberating guitar figures and detailed narratives about a reluctant prostitute and a drought-stricken farmer.
THE TEXTONES --
"Cedar Creek" (Enigma ST-73268). The Textones' lead singer Carla Olson released a delightful duet album with ex-Byrd Gene Clark last year, and the Byrds' influence is pronounced in Olson's songs for the L.A.-based Textones' second album. Olson is a strong, gutsy country-rock soprano, and she is backed by four men with good instincts and obvious skills. Unfortunately, the band's four songwriters are not very original, and the words and music sound like an undistinguished rehash of songs we've heard before.
THE LAST ROUNDUP --
"Twister" (Rounder 9006). Lou Whitney, the underground legend who once led Missouri's Morells, produced this debut album by this hillbilly-rock quartet. Whitney gets a spare rockabilly sound that's quite attractive, but the band's version of old-fashioned country hits is so broad that it lapses into the dreaded territory known as camp.