Both timeless and distinctly of its time, the music of the Byrds laid the groundwork for much that followed their hit-filled reign from the mid'-60s to the early '70s. You hear their influence in the jangle-rock of R.E.M. and Tom Petty, in the country-rock of the Eagles and Uncle Tupelo, in the roots rock of the Band, in the rootsy country of Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams. The Byrds' career path mirrored rock's own developing history: They debuted as plugged-in folkies with transcendent three-part harmonies ("Turn! Turn! Turn!"), then turned psychedelic-rock experimentalists ("Eight Miles High") and country revivalists ("Hickory Wind"). And the music of the band's members would resound for years to come: David Crosby
with Crosby, Stills & Nash
, Gram Parsons
and Chris Hillman
with the Flying Burrito Brothers
, and Roger McGuinn
on his own after the Byrds finally called it quits. This two-disc set offers fans a broad overview of the Byrds' fruitful flight, culling tracks from each of their 11 proper albums, plus a couple of singles, leaning most heavily on their first 4 albums from 1965 and '66. Those are chronicled on Essential'
s first disc, an embarrassment of riches highlighted by the group's inspired Dylan
covers -- among them their inaugural single and hit, "Mr. Tambourine Man." Disc 2 condenses the band's influential Sweetheart of the Rodeo
a little too succinctly, with only two songs (the definitive version of Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" and Parsons's signature tune, "Hickory Wind"), but it does make space for Crosby's soaring single "Lady Friend," four gorgeous tunes from The Notorious Byrd Brothers
(including a country-tinged take on the Goffin-King reflection "Goin' Back"), and late-period favorites such as "Ballad of Easy Rider" and "Chestnut Mare." As a distillation of a truly transcendent rock career, The Essential Byrds
achieves lofty heights.