Roger McGuinn,
Limited Edition
(April First, 2004)

If you've ever wondered what it would sound like if the Byrds at the height of their powers had recorded the Beatles, look no further. Limited Edition opens with a version of "If I Needed Someone," recorded by Roger McGuinn as a tribute to George Harrison that sounds for all the world like the Byrds time traveled from 1968 to now to record this great familiar tune, replete with their hallmark jingle-jangle sound. If, by now you're getting the drift that this track alone makes this disc worth the price of admission, it does. Similar to the Byrds' Bob Dylan interpretations, this Beatles cover is definitive.

Unfortunately, the first track is so good that despite the overall quality of this album, the rest of the tracks suffer somewhat by comparison. McGuinn has spent the last 10 years on a folk-song preservation project, recording and posting the songs for free download on his Folk Den website. He describes in the liner notes to this record that "the next step in my history was combining folk with electric 12-string guitar" -- he's referring, of course, to the classic Rickenbacker sound that has become synonymous with the Byrds. Limited Edition contains five such electrified folk songs along with seven new originals co-written by McGuinn with his wife Camilla that also feature that trademark sound.

When one song ends, the next begins without the traditional several seconds of silence; we don't see that much anymore in the CD era. "Parade of Lost Dreams" is an original and, as with most of the new songs, it's a pleasant listen with that classic sound, well written, but not quite up to the level of the many great songs McGuinn has produced over the years. "Shady Grove" is a traditional folk tune made new in an attempt to create a new genre by combining folk and hip-hop, which McGuinn calls "Pho-Kop." Call it what you want, but to these ears, it's just good to hear McGuinn's voice -- sort of like revisiting an old friend. "James Alley Blues" is another folk song dressed up with a good electric arrangement; "Shenandoah" gets a similarly agreeable treatment.

I have all the respect in the world for McGuinn's folk-song preservation effort, but "When the Saints Go Marching In" is one song that I could do without, at least in this context (especially the call and response). "Saint James Infirmary" sounds slightly spooky in this rendition on acoustic and electric guitars. McGuinn's version of the traditional Irish blessing "May the Road Rise to Meet You" sounds great and is probably the next most melodic track on this disc after the Beatles tune. The no-break mastering seems really odd when this song fades out during a vocal and the next song starts right up with no break.

As a classic farewell, "May the Road Rise to Meet You" could probably serve as the end of the album because the following two tracks seem more like bonus tracks even though they're not labeled as such. "Echoes Live" is an acoustic instrumental by McGuinn, sounding like a live recording. The last track, "Made in China," is an original, given a sort of heavy rock arrangement with pounding bass and a strangely recorded vocal, sounding somewhat out of place here.

Limited Edition is a thoroughly enjoyable outing from one of folk-rock's true icons -- heck, he helped invent folk-rock. Longtime fans of the Byrds and/or McGuinn will surely enjoy the entire album. Everyone else should at the very least, drop the 99 cents for a download of "If I Needed Someone," a superb piece of work.

- Rambles
written by William Kates
published 2 April 2005

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