Saturday, November 19, 2022

CD Odyssey Discs 1599 and 1600: Flying Burrito Brothers

It has taken a while, but here we are, 1,600 reviews in and nowhere near the end. I once had all these ideas for articles when the Odyssey completed. Like “best albums of 1982” or “best Giant Head album covers”. Now I realize as long as I keep buying music faster than I can review it, the journey never ends. And that’s OK with me.

On that note – here is a two-for-one special! This happens when (according to Creative Maelstrom common law) it is a double album set on a single CD. When there are two albums in one jewel case, but separate CDs, I pick one randomly and wait to roll the next.

Disc 1599 is…. The Gilded Palace of Sin
Disc 1600 is…Burrito Deluxe

Artist: The Flying Burrito Brothers

Year of Release: 1969 (Gilded Palace of Sin) and 1970 (Burrito Deluxe)

What’s up with the Cover?  It’s a mashup of the two album covers. The boys standing around in those honky tonk suits are original to the Gilded Palace of Sin, but we’re missing the wooden shack with the two fetching ladies from the original cover.

In its place we have the sequined burrito from the “Burrito Deluxe” album cover. I love a good burrito as much as the next guy (and just had tacos for lunch), but I’d have preferred the ladies. This is what happens when you cut corners and get two albums in one, though.

How I Came To Know It: I think about 8-10 years ago my friend Brennan put me onto the fact that before Gram Parsons was Gram Parsons, he was in a band called the Flying Burrito Brothers. I checked it out on his advice and was immediately hooked. Shortly thereafter I found this “two in one” opportunity and pounced.

How It Stacks Up: If just compared against each other, “The Gilded Palace of Sin” wins the war of the burrito. It is easily the better record of the two. Against all of Gram Parson’s body of work, “Gilded Palace comes in third, and Burrito Deluxe is last. And since Gram jumped around through so many bands, here’s the full accounting from that perspective:

  1. Grievous Angel (as Gram Parsons): 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 1487)
  2. GP (as Gram Parsons): 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 1486)
  3. The Gilded Palace of Sin: 5 stars (reviewed right here)
  4. Sweethearts of the Rodeo (with the Byrds): 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 1021)
  5. Safe at Home (as International Submarine Band): 3 stars (also Disc 1021)
  6. Burrito Deluxe: 3 stars (reviewed right here also)

 Ratings: Gilded Palace of Sin: 5 stars; Burrito Deluxe: 3 stars

Disc 1599: The Gilded Palace of Sin:

It’s not often you listen to a record and witness the birth of a genre, but that’s how “The Gilded Palace of Sin” feels. Fresh from his exit from the Byrds, Gram Parsons took fellow former bird Chris Hillman and further pushes the Bakersfield Sound deeper into the backwoods of Americana (a term that didn’t even exist yet). Down that road you find the music equivalent of a dilapidated shack full of pot-smoking hippies playing folk music. Really fucking great folk music.

These songs have a lighthearted mid-tempo beat to them that belies their seriousness. The band is having a good time, for sure, but they are also crafting songs that are timeless and emotionally evocative. Gram Parsons may not have gotten a ton of radio play but his work with Chris Hillman and the rest of the band is seminal stuff in the history of country/folk crossover, which decades later still influences what today we is often called indie folk.

At first you might find these songs a bit tinny, but once your ear tunes into the jangle, which is simultaneously heart-worn and playful, you start to appreciate all that light and air. It is sneaky complicated with simple melodies with a hillbilly guitar and touches of piano that are almost ragtime. Every now and then a mandolin makes an appearance. It’s that meeting of the minds in a jam gumbo that should be a mess, but instead ends up as a celebration.

There are so many good songs on this record, that is it hard to single any out, but “Sin City” is about as good as it gets. The pedal steel feels like a hangover, and the slow mosey of the song is weary as hell, as the singer bemoans the wages of sin, presumably in Las Vegas but that could be the seedy underbelly of any American city.

The combination of “Do Right Woman” and “Dark End of the Street” book end an exploration of faithfulness. The former being an admonishment that if you want your partner to be true, you have to be a stand-up guy yourself. The latter is an exploration of the temptation and shame of infidelity. Both songs are masterclasses in songwriting by Chips Moman and Dan Penn who aren’t in the band, but penned tunes for many artists.

The rest of the record is principally written by Parsons and Hillman, with equally fantastic results. “My Uncle” protests the Vietnam draft and celebrates those who dodged it. Then – and this is weird – side two features songs titled “Hot Burrito #1” and “Hot Burrito #2”. Both are great, but both appear on this record and not “Burrito Deluxe” which has exactly zero burrito songs. I refer to this phenomenon as “hiding the burrito”.

Neither Burrito #1 nor #2 are actually about burritos, which I found annoying, but I forgave it because both songs are so fucking fantastic. The first, with its slow and accusatory dirge (the record explores a lot of bad relationships) and the second hits an up-tempo version of the same theme, with the best ever use of “Jesus Christ!” in a song’s refrain that I’ve ever heard. I imagine even the Lord would forgive his name being taken in vain in such an artful way.

The only weak spot on the record is the final track, “Hippy Boy”, which is a rambling talking bit over a bluesy tune. It features our titular hippy imparting some homespun (or possibly acid-induced) wisdom about the wages of sin. I think. It felt both preachy and aimless at the same time. However, despite this one misstep, the record is so good and so important to music, the real sin would be denying it a well-earned 5 stars.

Best tracks: all tracks except “Hippie Boy”

Disc 1600: Burrito Deluxe

The biggest challenge “Burrito Deluxe” experiences (outside of the dearth of burritos) is that it follows “The Gilded Palace of Sin”. As such the comparisons are inevitable, and “Burrito Deluxe” is left seriously lacking.

All of the qualities of sound and production I mention for the earlier record are all present here, but the songs are just not at the same consistent level. Instead, this record is that same aforementioned shack full of hippies that early in the evening were jamming out classics, but now are a bit too high and starting to spiral into self-indulgence.

If You Gotta Go” is a solid cover of the Bob Dylan tune, and I like the way the guitar vibrates away throughout. The song features the dubious argument of “if you’ve got to go, go now/or else you gotta stay all night.” Er…there are other options, Burrito Brothers, and most of them are a lot less douche-y.

Farther Along” is also awesome, although it is a timeless traditional tune, so credit to the Flying Burrito Brothers only in as much as they do a solid rendition. I’m a bit of a sucker for songs like “Farther Along” that always feels like it should be sung in some southern church during the Great Depression. This one is akin to “Keep on the Sunny Side” except it is a bit slower and doesn’t suck.

Yeah, I just called out “Keep on the Sunny Side”. What kind of monster am I? Who would not want to keep on the sunny side? Hey – I like the sunny side as much as the next guy, but the song is an anachronistic abomination that just won’t die.

But I digress…

Much better is the Burrito Brothers’ penned, “Older Guys” which is a bit of a goofy tune about what I think are the older shack dwelling hippies that have figured out how to do nothing in style. Listening to these songs I start to wonder just who pays the rent at these places, and how much of it is covered through bottle returns.

God’s Own Singer” is also solid and written by Bernie Leadon who had just joined the band and gets a George Harrison helping of writing opportunity (i.e. 2-3 songs only).

The record ends with a great rendition of the Stones’ “Wild Horses,” although a lot of that can be ascribed to what a great song that is. If you play it straight it is hard to go wrong with a 5-star song like that, and the Burrito Brothers wisely stay in their lane and countrify the arrangement only, keeping the tune’s brilliance intact.

“Burrito Deluxe” is solid, but in the end I could only give it three burritos out of five, which is three more than the record features. I know I’m harping on this lack of burritos situation but seriously, it’s weird.

Best tracks:  If You Gotta Go, Farther Along, Older Guys, God’s Own Singer, Wild Horses

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