(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)
The first Flying Burrito Brothers album I purchased, on April 27, 1984, was the two-LP Close Up the Honky Tonks compilation that covered the band’s prime 1968-72 years. It collected tracks from their first two albums with Gram Parsons, b-sides and a few rarities. The fourth side featured songs from the post-Parsons era of the band – though, oddly, nothing from their first post-Parsons album. But I enjoyed that material so much that, a few days later, I picked up their self-titled third album, which was originally released in June 1971.
Music historians and critics often note that, on the eponymous set, the band continued along the country-rock path charted with Parsons on the first two LPs while smoothing out the music’s rougher edges. Aside from Rick Robert’s “Colorado,” which was covered by Linda Ronstadt on her 1973 Don’t Cry Now album, the songs are said to be serviceable, little else. Allmusic.com’s Brett Hartenbach, for example, summarizes the album as “solid if unspectacular.”
He, and other critics, couldn’t be more wrong.
To my mind, Chris Hillman is one of the most under-appreciated figures in the annals of rock and country-rock history. A founding member of both the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, he helped carve the grooves through which much modern rock, country-rock and country music has since flowed. Go back to his country-flavored contributions to what is arguably the Byrds’ best (or second-best) album, Younger Than Yesterday, for proof; and check out this album, too. (Though long out of print on both vinyl and CD, the songs themselves are available, in order, on the Hot Burritos! The Flying Burrito Bros. Anthology 1969-1972.)
In some respects, the music is a forerunner of Hillman’s work with the Desert Rose Band, which had a good run in the country charts in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. (Diane and I saw them twice in those years. Great shows.) Whereas Parsons injected R&B and gospel into the mix, Hillman introduced bluegrass – and, too, surprisingly plaintive vocals. Newcomer Rick Roberts, who’d go on to Firefall and “You Are the Woman,” is in fine form, as well, contributing some wonderful songs and vocals.
The album’s highlights include “Colorado,” the Gene Clark-penned “Tried So Hard,” “Just Can’t Be” and “All Alone.”
- “White Line Fever” (Merle Haggard) – 3:16
- “Colorado” (Rick Roberts) – 4:52
- “Hand to Mouth” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 3:44
- “Tried So Hard” (Gene Clark) – 3:08
- “Just Can’t Be” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 4:58
- “To Ramona” (Bob Dylan) – 3:40
- “Four Days of Rain” (Rick Roberts) – 3:39
- “Can’t You Hear Me Calling” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 2:23
- “All Alone” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 3:33
- “Why Are You Crying” (Rick Roberts) – 3:02