Classic Rock Review

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The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace Of Sin


Upon Sweetheart Of the Rodeo’s completion, the events which saw the birth of one of the early and more influential country rock groups took place. To cut a long story short, a Byrds album which had been born out of the creative friction between Roger McGuinn’s desire to keep strolling down Notorious Byrd Brothers Avenue and bassist Chris Hillman and new boy Gram Parsons’ idea to record a country rock record, did indeed cause the classic lineup of the Byrds to split up for good. Parsons left the band on the eve of their South African tour and, soon after, he was joined by Hillman, who’d agree to play guitar and sing the occasional vocal track in a new, forward-thinking country band – the Flying Burrito Brothers. While McGuinn and the Byrds went into a sharp and rapid decline, Hillman and Parsons formed quite the songwriting partnership, swelling the ranks with pedal steel guitarist ‘Sneaky’ Pete Kleinow and the multi-talented Chris Ethridge filling out bass and piano duties. With the nucleus of the band now in place, the Flying Burrito Brothers took to the studio armed with a deal with A&M, several session drummers and some very promising material.

Promise that is, indeed, delivered with the kind of gusto which made Sweetheart Of the Rodeo the timeless classic that it is which results in, basically, another timeless country classic. The difference between the Gilded Palace Of Sin and the aforementioned Byrds album though is, most obviously, that nine of these eleven songs are original compositions, like the superb, upbeat opener Christine’s Tune – one which not only revels in the beat group-type harmonies that make Sweetheart Of the Rodeo as forward-thinking as it was, but also with a psychedelic twist. Throughout this album, pedal steel guitarist Pete Kleinow either uses a fuzzbox with his weapon of choice or plays it through a rotating Hammond Leslie amp, giving this song a kind of psychedelic country feel about it. It takes the experiment that was Sweetheart Of the Rodeo a step further. The following Sin City lacks such an affect but still serves as a very good slow-burner to take the album onwards.

From there, as per Parsons’ idea of ‘cosmic American music’, we get two covers of old R’n’B standards, with both Do Right Woman and Dark End Of the Street being two top-notch examples of that idea not only coming to fruition but actually sounding damn good as well. The latter in particular, with Parsons’ lead vocal and Hillman’s harmony, really presents a fascinating show of R’n’B being wired up to a country motor and doing a world of good for itself.

Next up is another trio of Hillman/Parsons co-writes, starting with the bouncy, bluegrass-flavoured My Uncle as it rounds off side A, before moving on to the unrelentingly top-drawer level of quality which is side B. Wheels gives Kleinow’s concept of a psychedelic pedal steel guitar another chance to shine here, piercing through a truly beautiful, harmony-heavy and achingly emotional slow-burner, which sees Parsons’ strength for the despairing country ballad as a vocalist really coming into its own. Juanita, propelled as it is by Kleinow’s this time unadorned pedal steel, Hillman’s acoustic strumming and some more absolutely gorgeous vocal harmonies between him and his co-writer, is another wonderful ballad that it’s so easy to just lose yourself in.

It’s hard to imagine the album getting any better but, oddly enough, it does. Hot Burrito #1 and Hot Burrito #2 were both hastily-written by Parsons and Ethridge, which is quite something given that they’re two of my favourite songs of all time, let alone country songs. A couple of Parsons’ finest vocal performances without a doubt – you can almost hear him crying as he sings ‘I’m your toy, I’m your old boy, but I don’t want no-one but you to love me’, augmented by Kleinow’s psychedelic-leaning contributions make for a couple of heart-wrenchingly beautiful classics.

Do You Know How It Feels, another Parsons/Goldberg composition, leans much more towards the traditional and as such isn’t too far removed from something the International Submarine Band would’ve recorded, but doesn’t bring the level of quality down one little bit. The curtain call, Hippie Boy, is simply brilliant. With Parsons’ wonderful lyric being spoken over a backing track dominated by his own work on the organ, it’s a bit of a sore thumb on the tracklisting but nevertheless is a wonderful way to put the lid on the record.

A record which, since getting hold of it myself, has become my joint-favourite that Parsons have ever been involved with alongside Sweetheart Of the Rodeo. In some ways, it’s probably stands as more of an example of how much everyone who claims to hate country is missing out on than the Byrds album. For all the colours added by the psychedelic touches of the organ and fuzzy pedal steel, the way it takes the experiment that Parsons and Hillman kicked off while they were in the Byrds, the mutual understanding of a rich musical tradition that they then take full advantage of to become a truly great songwriting partnership and, of course, the Hot Burrito songs, make for an absolute classic and another album I’d recommend to absolutely anyone.

May 15, 2010 - Posted by | The Flying Burrito Brothers The Gilded Palace Of Sin |

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