After leaving The Byrds, Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman again joined forces in The Flying Burrito Brothers, where they really married country and rock music (for all the talk about it being the first country rock album, there's precious little rock on Sweetheart Of The Rodeo). Strangely enough, even though the band is definitely more on the country side, their prime audience has always been rock fans. Then again, it's easy to see why on "Christine's Tune (a.k.a. Devil In Disguise)," which begins the album by perfectly capturing Parsons' stated intent to "play country music with a rock n' roll attitude". Continuing, "Sin City" is a pretty, gently loping ballad that shows off the band's excellent Everly Brothers-inspired harmonies, while on “Do Right Woman” and “Dark End Of The Street” Parsons turns classic soul chestnuts into classic country songs (Al Green would do the reverse years later, and together they did much to blur the lines between alleged genres such as "soul", "rock", and "country"). Parsons' genius was arguably never more apparent than on these two songs, which still oozed an awful lot of soul while giving both Aretha Franklin and James Carr serious runs for their money. This album's other dual high points come in the form of “Hot Burrito #1,” a tremendously affecting track on which Parsons gives arguably his greatest vocal ever, and “Hot Burrito #2,” a prime showcase for the band's catchy songwriting and classy accompaniment; other prominent band members included Sneeky Pete Kleinow, whose pedal steel guitar was probably the single most important component of the Burritos' sound aside from Parsons' voice, and multi-instrumentalist Chris Ethridge, who co-wrote the above-mentioned "Hot Burrito" songs. Other enjoyable songs include their ode to motorcycles "Wheels," Hillman's cry-in-my-beer ballad "Juanita" (not to worry, our narrator perks up by the song's end), and "Do You Know How It Feels," a catchy mid-tempo sing along that sounds so warm and inviting it's as if it has always existed. Elsewhere, it's easy to see why "My Uncle" (too country, if you know what I mean) and "Hippie Boy" (boring spoken word piece) were left off the band's excellent Farther Along anthology, but these songs' lyrics at least showed how the band stayed away from standard country clichés, with Hillman himself declaring “I think we were some of the first songwriters to inject a little social conscience into country music.” In short, anyone with even a passing interest in country or rock music shouldn’t be without this "forgotten classic", which saw a highly involved Gram Parsons (not to mention great second fiddle Chris Hillman) producing peak performances that would go on to influence many a later country rock artist.
Burrito Deluxe (A&M '70, '02) Rating: B
With former Byrd Michael Clarke settling in as the permanent drummer, and future Eagle Bernie Leadon replacing Etheridge, the Flying Burrito Brothers set about recording Burrito Deluxe. Unfortunately, Parsons was M.I.A. for many of the recording sessions, preferring a hedonistic lifestyle hanging out with The Rolling Stones (in particular Keith Richards) to being a productive member of the band. Unsurprisingly, the album's high point is Parsons' heartfelt performance of the Stones' then not yet released "Wild Horses" (though I still prefer the Stones' version). The rest of the album isn't bad by any means, but the songs do suffer by comparison to their stellar debut, lacking a similar sense of adventure and intensity. The fact that the band felt the need to unearth a couple of earlier tunes and tackle several cover songs says that something was amiss, and it's a credit to the rest of the band and Parsons' own impossible-to-completely-keep-down talent that much of Burrito Deluxe is enjoyable anyway. After all, the album contains several lively, fun songs that are more lighthearted and rocking than past performances, as well as several slower showcases for the band's superlative harmony singing. It's a pity that Parsons' heart wasn't completely into this one (his subsequent departure for a solo career was therefore inevitable), but big fans of Parsons or the Flying Burrito Brothers (who continued onwards without Parsons) will likely enjoy the majority of this album. Note: Both The Gilded Palace Of Sin and Burrito Deluxe are included in their entirety on Sin City: The Very Best Of The Flying Burrito Brothers, which also contains a couple of lesser known (but enjoyable) cover songs tacked onto the end. The sound quality is also first rate, and Robyn Flans' liner notes are extremely informative, including juicy tidbits about Parsons and Hillman's chance meeting in a Beverly Hills bank, Parsons' extreme fear of flying, and other interesting anecdotes.
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