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2023 Albums Thing 141 - Flying Burrito Brothers “The Gilded Palace Of Sin”

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Here’s our second encounter with Gram Parsons. We last met Gram back in March when we were talking about his influence over The Byrds and the making of “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo”. Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman had fired Gram Parsons from The Byrds in the summer of 1968. Parsons had refused to take part in The Byrds tour of South Africa citing his opposition to that countries policy of apartheid. Hillman suspected he just wanted to stay in the UK and hang out with his new friends, the Rolling Stones.

Later that year Parsons and Hillman reconciled and after Hillman left the Byrds, due to some financial jiggery-pokery by their management, he hooked up again to form the Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram. The band was rounded out by bassist (Hillman had switched to guitar) and keyboardist Chris Ethridge (who had played with Gram in the International Submarine Band) and the wonderfully named pedal steel man “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow. Drummer “Fast” Eddie Hoh proved a little too fast and loose with certain substances and was replaced by a succession of session drummers before finally being replaced by another ex-Byrd, Michael Clarke.

“The Gilded Palace of Sin” was recorded during November and December 1968 at Hollywood’s famed A&M Studios. It expanded on Hillman and Parsons groundbreaking fusion of rock and country with The Byrds. Most of the songs were written by various combinations of band members but 2 covers were included, not country songs but two soul classics written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn, “Do Right Woman” and “Dark End Of the Street”, the country-soul fusion that Gram called "cosmic American music."

The album begins with two Burrito’s/Parsons classics, “Christine’s Tune” (track 1 side 1 perfectly setting expectations) kicking things off and sounding almost like The Monkees. It’s the story of a lady with a checkered reputation Gram and Hillman met in LA (she sadly later died in a car accident). Following that is “Sin City” which paints a lurid picture of life in Vegas as an allegory for life in general. These two songs perfectly set out the Burrito’s sound, a slick marriage of rock and country before you hit the two soul covers we’ve already mentioned, "cosmic American music" incarnate.

Over on side 2 are two more Burrito classics. “Hot Burrito #1” and “Hot Burrito #2” were written by Gram Parsons and Chris Ethridge during the same session and address Gram’s break up with his girlfriend Nancy. #1 is a lovely ballad where #2 is more uptempo. Chris Hillman is alleged to have said of Gram Parsons; “I only heard two great vocals out of that guy: ‘Hot Burrito #1’ and ‘Hot Burrito #2”. While being a very debatable statement you can’t help but be impressed with Gram’s voice on both. 

Elsewhere songs such as “Juanita”, “Wheels” and “Do You Know It Feels To Be Lonesome” set Parsons as a songwriter of some standing. There are a couple of clunkers here (“My Uncle” and “Hippy Boy” I could happily live without) but they don’t really detract from the overall experience. Ultimately “The Gilded Palace Of Sin” flopped. The Burrito’s toured extensively, and even opened for the Rolling Stones at Altamont, but fame and fortune were not be theirs. Among those in the know it confirmed Gram Parsons status as a purveyor of great American music ahead of his two early 70’s solo albums and tragic demise. The Burrito’s carefully crafted mix of rock and country sparked something in other musicians and was a huge influence, particularly upon the Eagles.

Hot Burrito #2 - https://youtu.be/su3a6SYmWtM

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