Byrds-y is one of those adjectives that's overused by music journalists, right up there with Beatle-esque. Shorthand for jangly guitars and pretty vocal harmonies, it's the sound that was featured on early hits "All I Really Want To Do," and "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better." This may be the style that the Byrds are best remembered for, but as this 4-CD set makes abundantly clear, there are at least three other meanings for Byrds-y.
Disc One traces the evolution from nascent beat group through the acquisition of Rickenbacker guitars and their folk-rock arrival on the cover of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man." Roger McGuinn was essentially acting as the electric Bob on covers like "Chimes Of Freedom" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." Meanwhile, McGuinn's foil, Gene Clark, with his wavery voice and unerring melodic sense as a writer, sounded like a collision of Johnny Cash and Rubber Soul ("Here Without You" is especially fine). When the pair blended their voices with David Crosby's angelic tenor, the Byrds achieved lift-off (the anthemic "Turn! Turn! Turn!").
A strong whiff of hash ushers in Disc Two, with the classic "Eight Miles High" (trivia: McGuinn's cavernous raga solo was his tribute to John Coltrane). Perhaps sensing a dead-end, the group never really chased this proto-psychedelic moment (the string-laden "Wild Mountain Thyme" is a lovely exception), instead changing gears and heading south. "5 D," "Time Between," and "Mr. Spaceman" all flirt with the country flavor that would define the band's later work. They stayed plugged into their signature sound on "Have You Seen Her Face," the cover of Dylan's "My Back Pages" and one of Crosby's finer moments, "Lady Friend."
The first thing you hear on Disc Three is the barroom whine of a pedal steel. In fact, it introduces five of the first six songs. Welcome to the metamorphosis. Clark and Crosby are out. Gram Parsons is in. Bassist Chris Hillman has stepped forward. Mustaches, banjos and fiddles are added. And suddenly, the Byrds invent country rock. "Hickory Wind," "One Hundred Years From Now," and "You Ain't Going Nowhere" are all road maps for where the Flying Burrito Brothers (Hillman and Parsons absconded with the sound) and the Eagles would go in years to come.
The predominantly live Disc Four finds McGuinn rebuilding the Byrds once again, this time into a ragged country blues outfit. Songs like "Lover of the Bayou" and "Old Blue" showcase the feedback twang picking style of new gun Clarence White, while "Byrdgrass" and "Nothin' To It" are pure banjo and fiddle rave-ups. Miles from "Turn! Turn! Turn!" the Byrds slowly ride off into the sunset, going their separate ways and leaving McGuinn to curate the archives for years to come.
A bonus DVD focuses almost exclusively on early years, with TV performances of "Feel A Whole Lot Better" (dig those groovy go-go dancers) and "Eight Miles High."
If ever a release fully embodied the word Byrds-y, this is it.