Thursday, December 29, 2011



This record could very well be the undisputed, heavyweight champion of brilliant, yet forgotten music. Though their debut put them in the vanguard of the country rock style, The Flying Burrito Brothers struggled to find an audience. Groups that followed (The Eagles) would steal and smooth the Burritos’ sound into what Gram Parsons described as, “a dry, plastic fuck.”

Parsons and Chris Hillman put the band together, drafting Chris Ethridge, "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow, plus drummer Jon Corneal to fill out the lineup. The Guilded Palace of Sin was recorded and released in 1969 to critical acclaim, though record buyers barely acknowledged it.

Being a step ahead of the music currents of their time, coupled with internal problems and lack of promotion ended the band before they could get started. Parsons jumped ship after the second album. Critics now trip over themselves, writing about Gram Parsons and his vision of "Cosmic American Music", though not many gave him the credit he was due in his lifetime.

Classic records usually deliver an immaculate "Side One", packing the megaton force of an A-bomb, leaving the listener barely able to comprehend what will be served up next.

This is no exception

"Christine's Tune" is the Everly Brothers on acid. Sneaky Pete's unconventional pedal steel work is incredibly inventive, while the Parsons/Hillman axis do their best "Phil and Don" harmonies. "Sin City" is a fantastic soundtrack to a hangover, filled with imagery that is less than impressed with the LA scene in the late 1960's. It's a glorious creation that reinvents the wheel in four minutes. Both tunes were co-written by Hillman and Parsons.

Soulful covers showcase the versatility of everyone involved. "Do Right Woman" fuses country with an R & B feel (Aretha Franklin had a version of this) and "The Dark End of the Street" is more of the same. Parsons' vocals display a degree of vulnerability that makes each stand out. The arrangements are tasteful with extended jamming muted in favor of playing in service of the songs.

"My Uncle" rounds out this killer side. An uptempo look at draft dodging, it has a great hook and provides subtle comment on what was then a hotly debated subject.

A letter came today from the draft board
With trembling hands I read the questionnaire
It asked me lots of things about my mama and papa
Now that ain't what I call exactly fair
So I'm heading for the nearest foreign border
Vancouver may be just my kind of town
Because they don't need the kind of law and order
That tends to keep a good man underground

Parsons and Hillman were motorcycle enthusiasts, writing "Wheels" in tribute to the freedom of gliding along on just two of them. Hot Burritos 1 and 2 really deserved better titles. They are the most passionate vocals that Gram Parsons ever committed to tape, impeccably supported by the assembled musicians.

"Do You Know How it Feels" is a real shit kicker, prefiguring Dwight Yokam by about 20 years. Short and sweet. The LP closes with the sombre, churchy organ and piano based Hippie Boy, a spoken word commentary on the 1968 Democratic Convention riots. It is well done, though redolent of its time.

Topical reference is generally avoided ("My Uncle" excepted) so this set has aged quite well. The absence of late sixties, day-glo paint poured over the proceedings also extends the shelf-life of these songs.

Vinyl copies are tough to find and are expensive when you do.

Recent repackaging on CD has given this music that fused country, rock, soul, R & B and gospel a profile in the digital age. Despite the magic that happened to create this disc, it remains woefully under appreciated due mostly to lack of distribution.

Now that you're aware of it, look for a copy. Well worth the price of admission.

1 comment:

Todd Mason said...

Hillman's bands were uniformly underappreciated, even when the Byrds were riding the charts early on.