Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Gram Parsons: The Flying Burrito Brothers The Gilded Palace Of Sin (1969)

3513016914_c8b0b4d15b_oThere is often seen a trend to praise the Byrds’ Sweetheart Of The Rodeo and this album as the glorious beginnings of country-rock. There is also a somewhat weaker, but also persistent trend to dismiss the Byrds’ Sweetheart Of The Rodeo as a pile of generic shit and praise this album as the glorious beginnings of country-rock. I join the second school, even if I wouldn’t go as far as to call the Byrds album “shit”; generic, yes, but listenable.

This record, though, is definitely more than just “listenable”. It’s not very memorable, well, given the genre’s limitations and all. But it’s really a landmark with its own unique (well, unique at the time) flavour. And the most important thing – without it, there would be no Eagles, and their Greatest Hits 1971-75 wouldn’t serve as an important source of revenue for tax collectors throughout the world!

Nah, I’m kinda pulling your leg here, although it certainly deserves to sell more copies than that Eagles collection. But if there is a definite “country rock” record, this is it. Country – because, well, all the songs are country at heart, with country melodies, country lyrical motives, country instrumentation (mostly courtesy of the great Sneeky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel and suchlike), and country arrangements. Rock – because it’s done by a bunch of guys who come from a “rockier” background than your standard Nashville session players. Hell, Merle Haggard never got along with Gram Parsons after all, just because the guy was a hippie at heart. Dope? Got it. Flashy costumes? Got it. ‘Cosmic American music’? Not exactly the most “country” approach. And then there’s stuff like the occasional electric guitar part on here, and definite traces of hippie mentality in the lyrics – particularly in the Hillman-spoken ‘Hippie Boy’ at the end of the album, a track which is straightforwardly aimed at trying to bring together the flower power ideology and the hillbilly one; a fruitless occupation, but a generous one anyway.

Most of the tracks are penned by the Burritos themselves, with Parsons and Hillman sharing most of the credits and the two ‘Hot Burritos’ co-credited to Parsons and Chris Ethridge. They do make good choices in covers, though (unlike on the Byrds’ album – ‘The Christian Life’, remember? God!). ‘Do Right Woman’ has no interesting melody to speak of, but Parsons’ singing is heartfelt and convincing, while Mr Sneeky Pete always seems to know how to pick the least generic chord progressions; and ‘Dark End Of The Street’ is positively gorgeous, again showing what a great singer Parsons is when he’s in the mood. And they have a great way of producing harmony vocals, too: next time you’re listening, note that on every line he’s singing in harmony with Hillman, the Hillman/Parsons duo is only heard in one channel, whereas the other is pure Parsons. That gives you cool harmonies AND a distinct individuality at the same time – something I’ve always wanted to get from the Byrds but never could get.

The originals also follow the country formula pretty neatly, but there’s still much more variety within the formula than on Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. ‘Christine’s Tune’ is upbeat and slightly poppy, with an actually memorable chorus – and trippy, loud, psychedelic electric guitar parts which, of course, would immediately make the album taboo for yer average “salt-o’-the-earth” guy. ‘Sin City’ is Parsons’ curse-and-blessing ode to Los Angeles, not particularly inspiring musically, but I kinda like the lyrics – ‘on the thirty-first floor, a gold-plated door won’t keep out the Lord’s burning rain’, and again, Pete’s guitar parts are not to be missed. ‘My Uncle’ is boppy and fun, so fun, in fact, that it’s not easy at first to realize the song’s actually carrying a vivid anti-war message.

The two major highlights on the second side are ‘Hot Burrito No. 1’ and ‘Hot Burrito No. 2’. The first one, actually, sounds more like a sentimental Bee Gees ballad than any country song I’ve heard (an analogy further aided by the fact that Parsons keeps hitting these very high notes that make his voice sound all trebly and shaky like Robin Gibb’s), but that’s not a denigration – it’s really a great ballad, with a simple, but fine solo to boot, and a sincere broken-hearted performance from Gram the likes of which can hardly be found anywhere else. As for ‘No. 2’, it’s more of a laid-back roots-rocker which is confusing because it’s Gram again, confessing his love further, but each refrain ends with a desperate wail of ‘Jesus Christ!’. Blasphemy!

Not every track has a lot to offer – there’s a couple relative duds on the second side, and apart from the lyrical message of ‘Hippie Boy’, there’s not much to say about that (perversely the longest) number, but that’s all right by me. Believe me, a record like this is blessed if it has only like a couple of duds… if you don’t think so, look at all the heaps of banal forgettable hogwash this stuff has inspired. The important thing is, this is a country-rock album that manages to avoid most of the usual country-rock cliches, and apart from the Burritos and maybe the Band, there doesn’t seem to have been a lot of people in the good ol’ US of A who ever could (or would) avoid these cliches. Poco! The Eagles! Ah, the pleasure of having to think about a mediocre band without actually having to listen to it.

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March 1, 2013 - Posted by | The Flying Burrito Brothers The Gilded Palace Of Sin |

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