The Byrds

The Byrds: There Is a Season

Surveying rock’s historical landscape from the modern end of the looking glass, you can make the case that the Byrds have been as influential as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, particularly on the American side of the pond. For evidence, There Is a Season includes five hours of music featuring 99 songs (five previously unreleased) and a DVD with 10 early TV appearances, as well as extensive liner notes from Rolling Stone’s David Fricke.

The four audio discs are arranged in chronological order, running from the Byrds’ early incarnations as the Jet Set and the Beefeaters to the reunion lineup of their 1973 self-titled swan song. Not surprisingly, the focus is on the band’s revolutionary ‘64-‘68 output: the folk-rock explosions of Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn!, highlighted by Roger McGuinn’s 12-string jangle, the soaring three-part harmonies of McGuinn, David Crosby and Chris Hillman, and a host of inspired Bob Dylan reinterpretations. That combination proved pivotal to the development of artists ranging from Tom Petty and early R.E.M. to today’s folk-rock revival and the psychedelic pop of bands like the Shins and Beachwood Sparks; the John Coltrane/Ravi Shankar-influenced post-modal guitar and feedback flights of Fifth Dimension, Younger Than Yesterday and the Notorious Byrd Brothers, echoes of which can be heard in the dissonant experiments of Sonic Youth and latter-day Wilco; and the Gram Parsons-inspired masterpiece, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the touchstone of all country rock that’s ever followed.

As an introduction to the stylistic prowess and scope of the Byrds, it’s difficult to find fault with There Is a Season beyond nitpicking track omissions/inclusions — though the reissues of their catalog in recent years offers a more thorough overview. The Byrds are still essential listening 40 years after their heyday; the same can’t be said for this box set unless you’re just discovering the band. 4 stars