I’ve already reviewed two of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ albums and continue the four-part project with this review of…
The Flying Burrito Bros
The Flying Burrito Brothers
Produced by Jim Dickson, A&M Records, Released June 1971, Length 36:15
Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman left the legendary Byrds in 1968 to form the pioneering country-rock band, the Flying Burrito Brothers. The FBBs’ first album, “The Gilded Palace of Sin” (1969), is still beloved as one of the seminal, pioneering country-rock records (see my review here). As Parsons stumbled deeper and deeper into drug and alcohol addiction, the quality of the band’s music suffered. The FBBs’ second LP, “Burrito Deluxe” (1970), had its moments, but couldn’t compare with the band’s debut.
Hillman reluctantly fired the increasingly unreliable Parsons, replacing him with talented 21-year-old singer and songwriter, Rick Roberts (rhythm guitar). Along with Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel guitar, Bernie Leadon (future Eagle) on lead guitar, and Michael Clarke on drums, Hillman (bass) and the FBBs recorded their third album, the eponymous “The Flying Burrito Bros,” affectionately dubbed “the blue album” by FBBs fans.
This album is one of my all-time favorites, but rock ‘n’ roll audiences still weren’t hip to country rock. The Eagles would change that with their debut album the following year in 1972.
Let’s take a look at the excellent “The Flying Burrito Bros” album, track by track:
- “White Line Fever” (Merle Haggard) – 3:16 – Hillman sings Haggard’s 1969 hit about the truckin’ life. Lots of tasty licks from Sneaky Pete.
- “Colorado” (Rick Roberts) – 4:52 – I heard Roberts sing this great tune in concert in 1974 when he was backing a solo Stephen Stills. Video below.
- “Hand to Mouth” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 3:44 – A nice Roberts-Hillman collaboration with rollicking piano from guest Earl P. Ball. Folk legend, Bob Gibson, lends some twelve-string acoustic guitar.
- “Tried So Hard” (Gene Clark) – 3:08 – Hillman and Co. do an excellent cover of this 1967 Gene Clark tune.
- “Just Can’t Be” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 4:58 – Another nice and easy Roberts-Hillman composition. Leadon provides some tasty licks on lead guitar.
- “To Ramona” (Bob Dylan) – 3:40 – Hillman continues the Byrds’ legacy of paying tribute to Dylan with this cover. Guest guitarist Mike Deasy contributes the fuzz. Hillman still wasn’t confident in his lead vocals at this point and producer Jim Dickson took extraordinary measures to coax a pleasing performance from the band leader.
- “Four Days of Rain” (Rick Roberts) – 3:39 – Roberts’ very enjoyable brand of country-rock lite portends his future stint with Firefall. Gotta love Sneaky Pete’s tasteful pedal steel fills here.
- “Can’t You Hear Me Calling” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 2:23 – The band pulls out all the stops on this rockin’ tune.
- “All Alone” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 3:33 – A slow, sad number with a very catchy chorus.
- “Why Are You Crying” (Rick Roberts) – 3:02 – An excellent song by Roberts. I love Leadon’s banjo. Listen here.
Some critics of this album complain that the songs are slow and on the understated side, but I appreciate the easy-going feel of this excellent LP. There’s simply not one dog on the entire disc. Rick Roberts was not a country music player when Hillman hired him, so the FBBs had to accommodate Roberts’ more poppish style just as he had to bend to the FBBs’ country-rock style. The result was a more commercial album than the band’s two previous LPs. The problem was few people bought it. I can understand why Hillman disbanded the FBBs in frustration after the anemic sales for the blue album. Said Hillman, “I hold this one high, way over ‘Burrito Deluxe.’ But it didn’t sell. We were done then. There was nothing we could do” (“Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers,” p. 249). The Flying Burritos Brothers and this LP, “The Flying Burrito Bros,” were ahead of their time. Make no mistake, Glenn Frey and Don Henley were watching and listening intently and taking notes. They subsequently took the country-rock baton from the FBBs and ran with it.
One more album was released under the FBBs banner to fulfill the band’s contractual obligations with A&M, the excellent live LP, “Last of the Red Hot Burritos” (see my review here). Chris Hillman would continue his music career for another 46 years, most notably as leader of the Desert Rose Band from 1987 to 1993. Rick Roberts and Michael Clarke went on to form Firefall with Jock Bartley. Roberts wrote and sang lead vocals on Firefall’s three big hits, “You Are The Woman,” “Just Remember I Love You,” and “Strange Way.” Bernie Leadon co-founded the Eagle’s with Frey and Henley as the band’s lead guitarist. He was replaced by Joe Walsh in 1975. Sneaky Pete Kleinow would participate in the various ersatz-FBBs reincarnations that followed.
Someday soon, I’ll review the FBBs’ semi-disappointing second album.
Above from left to right: Bernie Leadon, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke.