Charlie Byrd: Sixties Byrd: Charlie Byrd Plays Today’s Great Hits (él Records)

Charlie Byrd
Sixties Byrd: Charlie Byrd Plays Today’s Great Hits
él Records/Cherry Red

I have long had the sneaking suspicion that during the Sixties, Easy Listening artists adapted rock and roll and pop hits as a way to build common ground between younger and older music listeners, perhaps in a spirit of fun for older music aficionados, while offering curious interpretations of contemporary sounds. The music business has always relied upon popular sounds, and these musicians saw that if they didn’t adapt, they’d be left to wither and die; after all, with music becoming the realm of teenagers and the young, a large market existed for those who felt left out. Interestingly, in so doing, these artists were unwittingly investing in their future. No one could predict that a time would come where younger listeners would seek out these seemingly innocuous covers of beloved songs for their curiosity value.

Sixties Byrd, él Records’ latest compilation, is a handy compendium of guitarist Charlie Byrd’s covers of popular Sixties pop and rock songs. Byrd made his claim to fame by collaborating with Stan Getz and helping to create the bossanova/samba/easy listening movement, thanks in part to their collaborative album, Jazz Samba; the first two songs on this compilation, then, are covers of Jobim’s two biggest hit, “The Girl From Ipanema” and “Corvocado.” These versions are warm and shimmery; Byrd captures their essence with ease, making them his own, even if their inclusion here feels a bit too obvious.

Yet it’s the rest of the album where things get interesting, as over the decade he takes his turns on classic songs from The Beatles (his version of “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” is a highlight of the set), Burt Bacharach (“Alfie,” “The Look of Love”), Jimmy Webb (“By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” “Up, Up, And Away”). His version of “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” is gorgeousness personified, a mellowness that’s enhanced with a Star Trek-like introduction, while his version of “Lullaby From ‘Rosemary’s Baby’” is both haunting and alluring, a seemingly unlikely choice but one that is fascinating thanks in part to its cheery guitar playing alongside a loosely-strung sitar and pulsating melody. Mostly, though, he reinterprets the lyrics of these songs with a gentle, easygoing guitar solo, one that shows reverence to the original composition, while offering a melody that is never less than cheery and delightful.

Sixties Byrd serves an excellent twofold purpose: it highlights the talents and skill of one of jazz and Easy Listening’s finest guitarists, while also offering up a unique glimpse as to how an older, more established artist reacted to the changing musical landscape, and interpreted it for an audience that might otherwise have dismissed the original versions of these songs.

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