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Monday, July 28, 2014

The Byrds - Sweetheart Of The Rodeo (1968 us, masterpiece, two disc set remaster and expanded)

Recorded in Nashville, Sweetheart of the Rodeo was indeed a huge bust for the once-massively popular band, peaking at a dismal Number 77 on the album charts, and yielding not one hit single. A classic example of a timeless album that nobody appreciated at first, the record is a real treasure. Every track, save for Parsons’s two compositions, is a cover of either a contemporary song or an arrangement of a traditional country piece. 

The Byrds had always been known by some as Bob Dylan’s unofficial cover band (they recorded 12 Dylan songs between 1965 and 1968), and although Dylan was holed up in Woodstock, New York, recording his now-legendary Basement Tapes with The Band, he made two demos from those sessions available to McGuinn and Hillman, and they rank as some of the greatest covers of Dylan’s material ever recorded. Featuring some incredible pedal steel guitar by session musician Lloyd Green, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” has a deceptively sunny feel, as it masks some of Dylan’s most foreboding lyrics to date: “Strap yourself/To the tree with roots/You ain’t goin’ nowhere.” Meanwhile, the equally dark “Nothing was Delivered” features a tiny hint of rock in its stirring, 4/4 chorus, as it bursts to life with those vocal harmonies The Byrds were known for.

The cover of The Louvin Brothers’ “The Christian Life” is beautifully done, its lyrics incredibly square for a Sixties rock star to sing, but it’s delivered with full sincerity (“Others find pleasure in things I despise/I like the Christian life”). McGuinn goes on to sing terrific renditions of “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, Merle Haggard’s “Life in Prison”, and Woody Guthrie’s ballad “Pretty Boy Floyd”, while Hillman sings on “Blue Canadian Rockies” and the traditional hymn “I Am a Pilgrim”, but it’s Parsons who steals the show. Parsons’s smooth country croon, injecting a heaping dose of heartbreak into “You’re Still on My Mind”. However, it’s his own songs, “One Hundred Years From Now” (sung by McGuinn and Hillman), and especially the gorgeous “Hickory Wind”, that stand out the most, the latter a stunningly beautiful look back at his own childhood in the South.

Of course, with this edition, it’s all about the bonus tracks, and this album is loaded with them. Aside from the McGuinn/Hillman arrangement of the traditional folk song “Pretty Polly” and some previously unreleased takes of “All I Have are Memories” and “Blue Canadian Rockies”, the focus of the tracks for the most of the set is on Parsons. On the first disc, after the album portion, it’s rounded out by a helping of non-album tracks that were originally unearthed on the 1991 Byrds box set: the more rock-oriented J.T. Hardin song “Reputation”, which Parsons had been performing solo since 1966, as well as Parsons’s original vocal takes of the propulsive “Lazy Days” (a Parsons original that didn’t make the album), a terrific version of “The Christian Life”, “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, and “One Hundred Years From Now”.

Disc Two starts off with selections from Parsons’s International Submarine Band, including the straight-ahead rock songs “Sum Up Broke” and “One Day Week”, from their 1966 debut single for Columbia, and the country road song “Truck Drivin’ Man”, released the same year by Ascot records, which artfully swipes the melody from “Act Naturally”. Three of Parsons’s best songs from the ISB’s 1967 album Safe at Home are included: the sprightly country tunes “Blue Eyes” and “Strong Boy”, as well as the stupendous “Luxury Liner”, a flawless blend of rock and country that was years ahead of its time. The rest of the tracks on the second disc are all previously unreleased demos and outtakes, and while it gets a bit repetitive, as several takes of the same songs are included, there are some real revelations, the best of them all being an alternate take of “Hickory Wind”, which features just Parsons’s voice, and no harmony vocals, making it all the more spare and emotional.

By the time Sweetheart of the Rodeo came out in August 1968, Parsons had already left The Byrds, angry about a scheduled tour of South Africa, not to mention his bitterness at having most of his lead vocals taken off the album. By the end of that year, Hillman would leave the band as well, going on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers with Parsons. In 1973, after two classic albums with the Flying Burrito Brothers and two more phenomenal solo albums, Parsons overdosed on morphine and Tequila, passing away at the age of 26. 

He might have only been in the Byrds for an incredibly short time, but the importance of what Gram Parsons accomplished with that band is still felt today, as Sweetheart of the Rodeo had a direct influence on countless artists, including The Eagles, R.E.M., and Wilco, not to mention the entire alt-country community from the past decade. It’s never too late for new listeners to discover Parsons’s work for themselves, and this exhaustive edition of the classic album gives both longtime fans and curious newcomers a detailed, rewarding look at one of the most important albums in rock history.
by Adrien Begrand 

Disc 1
1. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (B. Dylan) - 2:38
2. I Am A Pilgrim (Traditional) - 3:42
3. The Christian Life (Charlie Louvin, Ira Louvin) - 2:33
4. You Don't Miss Your Water (William Bell) - 3:51
5. You're Still On My Mind (Luke Mc Daniel) - 2:26
6. Pretty Boy Floyd (Woody Guthrie) - 2:37
7. Hickory Wind (Bob Buchanan, Gram Parsons) - 3:34
8. One Hundred Years From Now (Gram Parsons) - 2:43
9. Blue Canadian Rockies (Cindy Walker) - 2:05
10.Life In Prison (Jelly Sanders, Merle Haggard) - 2:47
11.Nothing Was Delivered (Bob Dylan) - 3:24
12.All I Have Are Memories (Kevin Kelley) - 2:48
13.Reputation (Tim Hardin) - 3:09
14.Pretty Polly (Chris Hillman, Roger McGuinn) - 2:55
15.Lazy Days (Gram Parsons) - 3:28
16.The Christian Life (Charlie Louvin, Ira Louvin) - 2:29
17.You Don't Miss Your Water (William Bell) - 3:49
18.One Hundred Years From Now (Gram Parsons) - 3:01
19.Radio Spot: Sweetheart Of The Rodeo Album - 0:58

Disc 2
1. Sum Up Broke (Gram Parsons, John Nuese) - 2:13
2. One Day Week (Gram Parsons) - 2:16
3. Truck Drivin' Man (Terry Fell) - 2:34
4. Blue Eyes (Gram Parsons) - 2:47
5. Luxury Liner (Gram Parsons) - 2:53
6. Strong Boy (Gram Parsons) -  2:01
7. Lazy Days (Alternative Version) (Gram Parsons) - 3:18
8. Pretty Polly (Alternative Version) (Chris Hillman, Roger McGuinn) - 3:37
9. Hickory Wind (Alternative Version Take 8) (Bob Buchanan, Gram Parsons) - 3:40
10.The Christian Life (Rehearsal Take 7) (Charlie Louvin, Ira Louvin) - 3:26
11.The Christian Life (Rehearsal Take 8) (Charlie Louvin, Ira Louvin) - 3:05
12.Life In Prison (Rehearsal Takes 1, 2) (Jelly Sanders, Merle Haggard) - 3:16
13.Life In Prison (Rehearsal Takes 3, 4) (Jelly Sanders, Merle Haggard) - 3:16
14.One Hundred Years From Now (Rehearsal Takes 12, 13) (Gram Parsons) - 3:58
15.One Hundred Years From Now (Rehearsal Takes 14, 15) (Gram Parsons) - 3:59
16.You're Still On My Mind (Rehearsal Take 13) (Luke Mc Daniel) - 2:53
17.You're Still On My Mind (Rehearsal Take 48) (Luke Mc Daniel) - 2:38
18.All I Have Are Memories (Instrumental Take 17) (Kevin Kelley) - 3:13
19.All I Have Are Memories (Instrumental Take 21) (Kevin Kelley) - 3:07
20.Blue Canadian Rockies (Rehearsal Take 14) (Cindy Walker) - 2:59
Tracks 1-6 performed by The International Submarine Band

The Byrds
*Roger McGuinn - Acoustic Guitar, Banjo, Vocals
*Chris Hillman - Electric Bass, Mandolin, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
*Gram Parsons - Acoustic Guitar, Piano, Organ, Vocals
*Kevin Kelley - Drums
Additional Personnel
*Lloyd Green - Pedal Steel Guitar
*Clarence White - Electric Guitar
*John Hartford - Banjo, Fiddle, Acoustic Guitar
*Roy Husky - Double Bass
*Earl P. Ball - Piano
*Barry Goldberg - Keyboards
*Jay Dee Maness - Pedal Steel Guitar

1964  The Byrds - Preflyte (2012 Edition)
1971  The Byrds - Live At Royal Albert Hall
1973  Byrds - Byrds
1973  Roger McGuinn - Roger McGuinn (2013 Edition) 

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