Flying Burrito Brothers
Hot Burritos – Anthology (1969-1972)
“They didn’t sell many records in their time, but everyone who bought one started a band.” That quote — in reference to the Velvet Underground — might as well have been describing the original Flying Burrito Brothers. Or, more specifically, its legendary founder and resident tortured genius, Gram Parsons. It was arguably through the vision of Parsons, with often under-recognized assistance from fellow-ex Byrd Chris Hillman, that alt-country, if not the entire field of country rock (a term Parsons notoriously hated) was born.
Call it what you will, Parsons and Co. were the first country group to push the C&W genre’s then-strict boundaries into rock and roll — and just as importantly, soul — as well as exposing it to the long-haired late ’60s hippies who never heard of Buck Owens or Merle Haggard. The troubled Parsons died at the age of 26 from a mixture of fast living and a personality that favored excess (hanging out with then-heroin addicted Keith Richards didn’t help, either), but his influence is felt daily in the guise of the “Americana” sound he devised. And what classic music it was. Although the band’s non-traditional collision of country, honky-tonk, rock, and soul sounds tame today, there’s no denying the heartbreaking quality of Parsons’ vulnerable tenor, Sneaky Pete’s over-driven, often distorted pedal-steel, and a catalog of durable songs which are as stirring now as they were 30 years ago.
Although he released a pair of highly respected post-Burrito solo discs, Parsons’ most potent and groundbreaking studio work was done with the Flying Burrito Brothers on two albums, some singles and B-sides, recorded in the incredibly short span of two years. That catalog, in addition to the third Parsons-less Burritos album (the last one that retained some of the original members and inspiration), is finally available on this double, 43 track release. Not as concise or focused as Farther Along, a 1988 single slice of the “best” of Parsons’ work with the band, Hot Burritos! simply throws all the songs at you, letting the listener decide which are the keepers. And there are a lot of them.
It also gives a full portrait of Parsons, warts and all, and of the band who is rightfully held in such high esteem in the alt-country world. As such, it’s a bit much for the average listener to absorb, especially since the self-titled third album simply isn’t as essential (let alone as historically important) as the first two. In fact, it’s likely the only reason the compilers included it was to flesh out the rest of disc two, or sucker in Burrito fans to this previously-unavailable-on-CD release.
Regardless, neither of the first two albums are currently in print individually, so this is the ultimate Parsons tribute simply due to its unflinching completeness, and fills a long vacant gap in the catalog of one of America’s most important bands. An 18-page booklet with two smartly written essays, stunningly remastered sound, and hard-to-find pics rounds out a set that’s about as essential to what Parsons dubbed “cosmic American music” fans as they come.
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