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Old 08-01-2009, 01:02 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Classof75 View Post
Great YouTube links! Just found a minty copy (vinyl) of Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Gonna check it out tonight. Looking foward to your review(s). Thanks for this thread.
There's an album I really wish I had on vinyl. If only I'd been born 30 years sooner

Anyhoo...

The Byrds
Sweetheart Of the Rodeo
1968, Columbia Records

1. You Ain't Going Nowhere [Dylan]
2. I Am a Pilgrim [trad arr. McGuinn/Hillman]
3. The Christian Life [Louvin/Louvin]
4. You Don't Miss Your Water [Bell]
5. You're Still on My Mind [McDaniel]
6. Pretty Boy Floyd [Guthrie]
7. Hickory Wind [Parsons]
8. One Hundred Years from Now [Parsons]
9. Blue Canadian Rockies [Walker]
10. Life in Prison [Haggard/Sanders]
11. Nothing Was Delivered [Dylan]

By the time David Crosby and Michael Clarke had left the Byrds with remaining members, bassist Chris Hillman and lead guitarist Roger McGuinn, both hell-bent on pushing on, Gram Parsons was still a marginal figure on the LA music scene and a friend of Hillman's. It was basically because of their idea of how the Byrds should follow up the psychedelic powerhouse of a record, the Notorious Byrd Brothers, and McGuinn's plan to create a double-album covering all the contemporary American musical forms, including bluegrass, jazz and more psychedelic rock, that Sweetheart Of the Rodeo was essentially born out of creative friction and disagreement. It was actually with that very idea in mind that McGuinn decided to seek out a jazz-trained pianist who, of course, Parsons was. As the start date for the album's recording sessions got closer, for which drummer Kevin Kelley was hired to complete the core band, it soon became apparent that instead of McGuinn's ambitious, all-encompassing double-album, Hillman wanted to use the new Byrds pianist and guitarist Parsons' know-how to expand on the country influence that the former's more recent compositions for the band had explored. Naturally, McGuinn was suspicious of this new direction. It was only after being pressurised by his bandmates and producer and friend Gary Usher that he agreed to go along with the idea.

While Sweetheart Of the Rodeo wasn't exactly a commercial proposition for the music industry of 1968, this new sound (dubbed by Parsons as 'cosmic American music'), which expanded on Parsons' own experiments with the International Submarine Band of running traditional c&w with a rock 'n' roll motor, would prove to be a true landmark of an album. It's overall sound, while centring on a honky tonk country vibe, incorporated elements of soul, folk and 50s-styled r'n'b and rock 'n' roll would influence not only the Flying Burrito Brothers (who'll occupy the next chapter of Gram Parsons' story), but the LA country-rock and outlaw country movement of the 70s right up to the alternative country of the 90s onwards. Pretty influential then for an album that, with two exceptions, is entirely comprised of covers of old country and folk standards. On top of all the influence it's had on generations of artists, Sweetheart Of the Rodeo is a masterpiece and possibly my favourite country album of all time.

Things get off to a terrific start with a blissful cover of Bob Dylan's You Ain't Going Nowhere (from the then-unreleased Basement Tapes), kicking off the album with a perfectly fitting series of pedal steel notes. The gorgeous vocal harmonies make for one of my favourite ever country songs. It's a level of quality carried over by the traditional ditty I Am a Pilgrim, arranged by Hillman and McGuinn to incorporate session man John Hartford's beautiful work on the fiddle.

The Christian Life on the other hand, depending on my mood, comes across to me as a bit of a weak point. Blatantly religiously-inclined lyrics have never exactly been a favourite thing of mine but, on the plus side, this song doesn't try to preach and can be seen as an anthemic little number about standing up for your beliefs in the face of humiliation and adversity. Absolutely nothing wrong with the music either. Whatever you think of it though, you just know from the opening piano lines from Parsons that this rendition of You Don't Miss Your Water is going to make up for it. With his freewheeling performance, this is the first place on the album where Parsons' talent is immediately obvious. You're Still On My Mind is, musically, about as honky tonk as you can get and the first move in that direction that the album takes, with Parsons' again showing his influence on this album on the back of another great performance. Woody Guthrie's Pretty Boy Floyd, another song to focus heavily on Hartford's fantastic work on the fiddle, is kicked into life by McGuinn's lively work on the banjo making for another absolutely superb cover.

To open side B are the only original songs on the album, both of them written by Parsons (which says everything for his influence on the whole album really). The first of these is the gorgeous slow-burner Hickory Wind, fueled by some heart-melting contributions to the sonic picture from the fiddle and pedal steel as well as Parsons' own trademark soaring vocal, this being one of the only three songs to feature his lead vocal. Another is his second composition to be found here, One Hundred Years From Now, with its much livelier vibe, given a much more bouncy and fun kind of feel by use of sessionist Lloyd Green's pedal steel and McGuinn's fantastic work on the guitar that punctuate the track, making for another country classic.

Speaking of country classics, the Hillman-led rendition of Blue Canadian Rockies is another one of those, again using those kind of beat group-styled harmonies in an unusual genre and really doing a whole world of good to an old standard. Plus the melody in Hillman's unaccompanied vocal just gets me every time. It gets the closing trio of covers off to a brilliant start, and a brilliant start which is taken further by Merle Haggard's Life In Prison as sung by Parsons. Superb melody, superb piano to carry the rest of a superb track - another one of my absolute favourites then. Another Bob Dylan song (again salvaged from the yet-to-be-released Basement Tapes), Nothing Was Delivered, serves as a slower, more contemplative sort of end to the album, slowly rolling it along to its conclusion.

So, as you might have guessed from my bleating above, not only is this album highly, highly influential, it's also highly, highly fantastic. Basically, I don't care how much you don't know about country or think you don't like it, Sweetheart Of the Rodeo is a true essential and an album I'd recommend to anyone. It certainly showed me that there's been at least some merit to an area of music that gets overlooked and disregarded by so many people. For this reason, I'm gonna give it the following rating;

10/10





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Old 08-01-2009, 01:05 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Excellent album, still remember the grin I had when put it on for the first time.
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Old 08-01-2009, 01:33 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Same here. When you're in the mood for it, there's nothing like sticking on a classic country-affiliated album now and then.

On another note, 4th video added, 'cos I'm just in that kinda mood.
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Old 08-01-2009, 07:38 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Can't wait for your Gilded Palace of Sin review. It's far and away my favorite album from the McGuinn/Parsons/Hillman nexus of early country rock.

Way back in '68 the Burritto Bros. were berated by the Nashville establishment as being too rock oriented but Gilded Palace of Sin sounds down-right straight off the ranch, by the contemporary Nashville standards. By the Eighties most of Nashville had gone mainstream pop.

As Nashville fell into decline, authentic country music rebels like Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson Steve Earle, Joe Ely and Townes Van Zandt and had made Austin the new capital of country music. I think the Flying Burritto Bros. were the first harbinger of that new era of country music.
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Old 08-02-2009, 05:17 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Gilded Palace Of Sin is a fantastic album as well. Not quite my pick of the albums Gram Parsons has had his name on - those would be Sweetheart Of the Rodeo and Grievous Angel. It is very nearly there though. Definitely has one of the best B-sides of any album I've ever heard.

By the way, I'm just gonna knock Safe At Home down to a 7. Good album, wouldn't call it brilliant after all though.
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Old 08-05-2009, 03:27 PM   #16 (permalink)
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I've been meaning to get into The Parson for a while, thanks for this- maybe it'll be all written up and sparkly by the time I finally get my hands on them. Great reviews by the way.
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Old 08-06-2009, 01:50 AM   #17 (permalink)
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Gilded Palace Of Sin is a fantastic album as well. Not quite my pick of the albums Gram Parsons has had his name on - those would be Sweetheart Of the Rodeo and Grievous Angel. It is very nearly there though. Definitely has one of the best B-sides of any album I've ever heard.

By the way, I'm just gonna knock Safe At Home down to a 7. Good album, wouldn't call it brilliant after all though.
I've always wondered about the acclaim for Sweetheart of the Rodeo. It's been praised as being the foundation album in country rock. The Band's Music From Big Pink was released before Sweetheart of the Rodeo and to my ear sounded authentically country than Sweetheart.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo took a long time to get noticed. The release of the Notorious Byrd Brothers earlier in the same year 1968 outsold Sweetheart nearly 2 to 1.

If I'm remembering correctly, the public interest in Sweetheart began to take off in 1990 when Uncle Tupelo had a minor hit with country oriented album No Depression. Both Jeff Tweedy (now of Wilco) and Jay Farrar (now of Son Volt) had mentioned both Parsons and Sweetheart as big influences on Uncle Tupelo. Around the same time Parson's fans began to sound the drumbeat for the original session takes of Sweetheart with Parsons singing on 6 of the 11 songs on the album. It took another seven years to get that to happen.

The 1968 verison of Sweetheart only had Parsons singing on two songs and playing a marginal role. Part of the problem was Lee Hazelwood threatened to sue the Byrds because technically Gram Parsons was still under contract Hazelwood's Gold Star label. The compromise was that Parsons could sing on only two songs Hickory Wind and You're Still On My Mind. On four other songs Parson's voice was erased and McGuinn replaced Parson's vocal on three songs and Hillman sang on one.

Early on McGuinn had wanted to make an ambitious genre busting album but Hillman and Parsons convinced him to record a country album in Nashville. Going into the sessions for Sweetheart Chris Hillman, Parsons and McGuinn were all influenced by Bob Dylan and the Band's music on their yet to be released Basement Tapes. Hillman and McGuinn had heard a bootleg of the Basement Tapes and loved the courtrified sound. Two songs from the Basement Tapes were covered on Sweetheart: Yet To Be Delivered and You Ain't Going Nowhere. The Byrds also used Dylan's rustic sounding John Wesley Harding which released the previous year as an aesthetic model. Both Sweetheart and JW Harding have a remarkably similar unadorned no frills sound, which was the antithesis of the lush orchestral sounds the bands like the Beatles, Love and the Moody Blues were experimenting with back then.

The Byrds didn't go over too well with the Nashville music establishment. McGuinn and Parsons were treated so shabbily by a popular Nashville redneck deejay who had them as a guest on his radio show that they wrote the song Drug Store Truck Driving Man humorously accusing him of being the head of the Ku Klux Klan among other things. The deejay had spent the entire interview making his views on pot smoking hippie bands like the Byrds known to his listeners. McGuinn and Parsons couldn't get in a word edgewise. The Byrds were also booed at a performance at the Grand Ol' Opry. The Opry fans were far more polite a year later when Bob Dylan took the stage of the Opry with Johnny Cash in tow. Nobody messes with the Man in Black.

So prior to 1997, when the legal issues with Parson vocals were resolved and the four additional Parsons vocals were restored Sweetheart of the Rodeo sounded more like a Byrds album and less like an album that Gram Parsons had a big role in.

The 1997 remix is a big improvement and finally gave Parsons his due, but it came 29 years too late for fans that had listened to earliest version of the album for so many years. It's probably why I like Gilded Palace because for nearly 30 years most folks thought Parsons' involvement in Sweetheart was minor. Parson left the Byrds largely because he thought McGuinn had something to do with the scaling back of the his vocals on Sweetheart but he didn't. Once McGuinn released that Hazelwood wasn't going to budge on the use of Parsons he decided to redo the vocals to get the album out before Columbia's deadline date. The other choice was to scrap the album completely face a lawsuit from Columbia for not delivering the product by the stated date.

Last edited by Gavin B.; 08-06-2009 at 02:17 AM.
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Old 08-09-2009, 11:52 AM   #18 (permalink)
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Well, pinpointing the the original of any sub-genre is always gonna be difficult. To me, as I said in the review, the first album to come up with an across-the-board mix of country and rock was Sweetheart Of the Rodeo. Sounds like I should probably hear Music From Big Pink sometime though.

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I've been meaning to get into The Parson for a while, thanks for this- maybe it'll be all written up and sparkly by the time I finally get my hands on them. Great reviews by the way.
With any luck it will be Thanks for reading as well.

If anyone's wondering, I've been on holiday most of this week so haven't really been keeping up with this thing. Should be back on track over the next few days though.
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Old 08-18-2009, 03:23 PM   #19 (permalink)
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I've left this thread alone for long enough so, in a bid to get this back on track, here's a taster for what's coming next. Another clip from the superb Fallen Angels documentary.



^ Gotta love that manoeuvre he pulls with the sunglasses there
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Old 08-18-2009, 06:14 PM   #20 (permalink)
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you should buy us al joshua trees,...that might spur more interaction
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