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Main Category: Roots Rock
Also applicable: --------
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years



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Year Of Release: 1969
Overall rating = 12

"Palace"? Isn't that a bit of an exaggeration considering the front cover's whereabouts? The girls really look sinful, though.


Track listing: 1) Christine's Tune; 2) Sin City; 3) Do Right Woman; 4) Dark End Of The Street; 5) My Uncle; 6) Wheels; 7) Juanita; 8) Hot Burrito No. 1; 9) Hot Burrito No. 2; 10) Do You Know How It Feels; 11) Hippie Boy.

There 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.



Year Of Release: 1970
Overall rating = 10

Did I actually tell you I actively dislike burritos? Particularly deluxe ones!

Best song: WILD HORSES

Track listing: 1) Lazy Days; 2) Image Of Me; 3) High Fashion Queen; 4) If You Gotta Go; 5) Man In The Fog; 6) Farther Along; 7) Older Guys; 8) Cody Cody; 9) God's Own Singer; 10) Down In The Churchyard; 11) Wild Horses.

I kinda realize that things change, but back in the late Sixties, when your album didn't sell, it actually meant something to you. Nowadays, it's a rare, if not unique, occasion, if you can get a good album to sell well; but in that epoch when an artist could make a sincere and innovative artistic work and actually hope that it would be commercially viable as well, things were different. Gilded Palace Of Sin didn't sell, and it depressed Parsons a lot - basically, it managed to ruin his 'cosmic American music' ideal and precipitated his decline into drugs and all that goes with 'em. (Hanging around with Keith Richards a lot wasn't exactly the best solution to the problem, either).

It also meant that Gram's involvement in the second Burritos album was, if not minimal, then pretty restrained at least. He formally quit the band soon after the recording sessions, but it's proverbially clear that his heart wasn't with the actual recorded music even during the sessions. Need any proof? By far the only song on the album where his singing really reaches the same "heartfelt heights" as before is the final track - and that's not even his own song, even if he had served as a source of inspiration for it. The Burritos actually released 'Wild Horses' before the Stones put out their own version, and the two are quite comparable - Mick's vocal take on the matter is more polished and edgy, but Parsons is clearly the man to be singing the tune. It's like the perfect anthem to his disillusionment and personal crisis. It also sounds like it absolutely does not belong on the album.

Not that it's a bad album. It's just that they don't sound like they're really trying. The departure of Chris Ethridge and the addition of Bernie Leadon on guitar and dobro (yup, here's your direct Eagles link - as you see, the tradition flows along smoothly!) as well as Mike Clarke as permanent drummer doesn't really change much, as the main songwriting duties are still the domain of Parsons and Hillman (Leadon only gets one full credit and one co-write). But Parsons' "estrangement" certainly does change a lot. All of a sudden, the tunes are duller and more generic, as well as staggeringly less personal - it's as if they were consciously slumping back towards Sweetheart Of The Rodeo territory. Heck, the very second tune introduces Bernie Byron's fiddle, and did you notice that, for all of its country flavour, Gilded Palace had no fiddle on any of the tracks?

The saving grace here is that superficially, this record rocks more than its predecessor. Many of the tunes are uptempo, with a prominent rocky rhythm section and occasionally a boogie side to 'em. And it does begin with 'Lazy Days', a tune dating back to Gram's Byrds days (you can hear the Byrds version amidst the bonus tracks on the Sweetheart reissue) - and it rocks fine and nice, with a bit of sly humour and great drumwork from Mr Clarke. But even then, Gram sounds a little bit detached, and it only gets worse from there. 'High Fashion Queen' is "country-boogie" done with a lot of 'technical fire', but not a lot of 'real soul' - primarily because the singing sucks. They've abandoned the "Hillman gets only one channel" trick, and the vocal harmonies are flat and uninspired; it's almost like Parsons is masking his lack of energy by letting Hillman share more of the spotlight. Doesn't work.

The Dylan cover ('If You Gotta Go') is nice, but again, kinda "grayish" and lacking the edge. When they sing the chorus, it's almost like they're rushing through it, smoothing out the necessary power of the final line (you'll know what I mean if you ever hear any of the actual Dylan-sung versions). And it's actually a highlight! If not for that song, 'Lazy Days', 'Wild Horses', and the slightly more 'felt-out' sentimentalism of 'Older Guys' (also a fairly "heavy" track by the Burritos' standards, with a rock'n'roll guitar solo), the album wouldn't have registered on my radar at all. I don't even know what to say about the rest of these tunes - occasionally they feel nice, but otherwise, it's clear that the spark is gone. There's too much fiddle; surprisingly weaker guitar parts from Sneeky Pete (I don't actually know how much he plays on the record in all); pretty poor sonic gimmicks (like the stupid cheering and shouting on 'Man In The Fog'); and too much genericism, like the same tired cliched waltzy chord progressions on 'Image Of Me' and 'Farther Along'.

In short, it all comes down to one guy. Gilded Palace was great because it was almost like a tense, inspired, singer-songwriter album - dominated by Gram's personality and idealism. This one is more like a band album, with several individuals butchering their personalities in order to come down in a collective traditional chorus, and that thing really doesn't work if you're doing your country stuff (well, I mean, it might work with you, but it definitely doesn't work with me). The version of 'Wild Horses' must be heard, and no fan of Parsons' should be without it; 'Lazy Days' you can get in a similarly well-done arrangement on that Byrds' re-issue; and the rest of the songs really aren't essential at all. Nothing is offensive - lyrically, the songs are fine, and it's still obvious that this stuff wasn't just done by your average buncha rednecks, but it just don't fire my 'magination. I CAN'T GET NO!..


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