Monday, December 21, 2009

December 21: The Flying Burrito Brothers, "The Gilded Palace Of Sin"

Artist: The Flying Burrito Brothers
Album: The Gilded Palace Of Sin
Year: 1969
Label: A&M

While the music scene of the late 1960's is without question known for the birth of psychedelic music and the "jam band" scene, the fact of the matter is, there were equally as influential innovations going on elsewhere in the music scene at the time. The entire mindset of the time was that nothing was "off limits" within music, and artists were mixing together genres in ways never previously thought possible. However, largely due to the perseverance of the folk scene, there were also many artists who were looking back to the "early" days of rock music, and keeping a much more "roots" sound to their music. It was during this time that the "country-rock" genre was cemented into place, and there was perhaps no group more responsible for this happening then one of music's greatest named bands ever: The Flying Burrito Brothers. Though he had many different musical projects over the years, there is little question that this band represents the finest and most influential of all of the bands that were led by Gram Parsons. What began as a "jam band" containing Parson's and a few friends remains today one of the most influential bands in both rock and country, and their innovations can be heard across both genres. Though the group's initial incarnation did not last long, they were responsible for one of the finest and most pivotal albums ever recorded, 1969's The Gilded Palace Of Sin.

Having recently ended his short stint as a member of The Byrds, Parsons and former Byrds bassist, Chris Hillman headed West to find new musicians who would help them fully realize the country-rock sound that they had infused into The Byrds Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. The bands' name was actually taken from a group that Hillman had previously played with in Boston, and after the Parsons-based group achieved fame, the original Burrito Brothers changed their band name to "The Flying Burrito Brothers East." Upon arriving on the West Coast, Parsons and Hillman began completely immersing themselves in the country-rock life, even going so far as to have custom "country suits" created, and these are what they are shown wearing on the albums' cover. The album itself is one of the most stunning mixtures of sounds and song choices that the world has ever heard, and the music stays consistently country-rock whilst presenting a wide range of original sources. From the brilliant original songs that Parsons and Hillman composed to a pair of absolutely amazing covers, The Flying Burrito Brothers use their debut record to prove that even in the country style, any other sound can be seamlessly blended. This is no more apparent then on the groups' fantastic re-working of the classic, "Do Right Woman," which had been made famous two years earlier by none other then Aretha Franklin. The band is smart enough to stay well away from anything resembling the Franklin version, and their country twist on the song is nothing short of sensational.

This ability to work any other style or sound into their own musical approach is what makes The Flying Burrito Brothers so amazing, and it is without question due to the top-notch musicians within the band that such achievements are possible. Having previously played alongside Parsons as part of the short-lived International Submarine Band, bass guitarist Chris Ethridge co-founded The Flying Burrito Brothers, and played bass guitar and piano for the bands' debut record, as well as co-writing a pair of the albums' songs. Ethridge has rarely sounded better then he does on this album, and his writing credits for "Hot Burrito Parts 1 & 2" remain today his finest writing achievements. Giving The Gilded Palace Of Sin much of its signature sound, former Byrds guitarist, "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow is widely regarded as "the Hendrix" of pedal-steel guitar. Kleinow stands as a massive influence on nearly every pedal-steel player who followed, and his tone and playing on this record remain his crowning achievement on the instrument. Though he was previously a bass player, when Hillman joined up with The Flying Burrito Brothers, he switched to guitar, and along with a bit of mandolin playing, he proves to be one of the most talented musicians of his generation. Finding the ideal balance between country, rock, and soulful sounds, one can hear the influence of The Flying Burrito Brothers in countless later bands ranging from Cake to The Allman Brothers Band to Wilco to Pure Prairie League and nearly every other band that plays with even the most remote sound of country-rock.

Even with each of these musicians playing brilliantly on every song, there is little question that The Flying Burrito Brothers are largely the work and vision of Gram Parsons. Without question one of the most visionary and talented musicians in history (and he has NO relation to Alan Parsons), everything from his voice to his overall musical approach prove to be nothing short of perfect on The Gilded Palace Of Sin. Parsons proves to have one of the most gentle, yet unquestionably emotive voices in history, and this is where the full feel of the "country style" becomes realized, as the sorrow and soul within his voice is nothing short of perfect. The interplay between the country and rock styles is perhaps no more apparent then on the albums' wonderfully juxtaposing opening track, "Christine's Tune." A song that follows the tragic story of a "woman of ill repute," the song works perfectly, as the listener is forced to feel sympathy with a character that, at the time, would surely have been seen as a "lesser" part of society. This ability to extrude emotion from the listener comes to a head on the heart-wrenching duo of songs, "Hot Burrito Parts 1 & 2." Bringing a more modern sense of anger and jealousy to the age-old country sadness, these two songs stand as some of the groups greatest work, as well as some of the most stunning songs in the overall history of music. Taking the fantastic lyrics and amazingly moody music, the voice and lyrics of Gram Parsons serves as the ideal finish to the unparalleled sound of The Flying Burrito Brothers.

Though they certainly make a case for the most amusing band name in music history, this name stands in great juxtaposition to the rather serious, somber, and often melancholy sounds found on The Flying Burrito Brothers' debut record, The Gilded Palace Of Sin. Such stark contrasts run throughout every aspect of the album, from the lyrical content to the unprecedented mixture of the country and rock sounds. From the classic, almost honky-tonk sounds of "Do You Know How It Feels" to the more modern, Spanish-influenced "My Uncle," the group explores a massive range of musical approaches, yet binds them all together with a country feel that makes the album one of the most stunning musical masterpieces in history. Led by the brilliant singing and vocal abilities of Gram Parsons, it is clear that this is the sound he was working towards with all of his previous bands. Finding a true musical kinship with Chris Hillman, the duo wrote some of the most heartfelt, yet innovative sounds in history, and their efforts have stood the test of time, still influencing countless bands to this day. Along with the sensational playing of Chris Ethridge and Pete Kleinow, The Flying Burrito Brothers stand as one of the earliest "super-groups," and the overall level of talent within the group remains largely unrivaled. Presenting what is without question the perfect combination of country and rock styles, The Flying Burrito Brothers remain one of the most important bands in music history, and their 1969 debut, The Gilded Palace Of Sin is without question a true musical masterpiece.

Standout tracks: "Christine's Tune," "Sin City," and "Hot Burrito Parts 1 & 2."

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