Posts Tagged ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’

The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin

One of the first times Gram Parsons played an open-mic night at the Palomino, a dive in North Hollywood that, in the late 1960s, was patronized mostly by hippie-hating country-music fans, a bar regular approached him right after his performance. “I want you to meet my three brothers,” the man said to Parsons, who was wearing his favourite pair of satin bell-bottoms and whose chestnut hair was longer than pretty much anyone else’s in the place. “We were gonna kick your ass,” the man continued, “but you can sing real good, so we’ll buy you a beer instead.”

No response could have flattered Gram Parsons more. The grand aim of what he would come to call his “Cosmic American Music”—an aural/spiritual fusion of country, R&B, gospel, rock, and good ol’ Southern charisma was to find subcutaneous common bonds between people who, on the surface, seemed to be at odds. And in the late 1960s, as the Vietnam War raged and the generation gap widened, that kind of unity was hard to come by. He wanted to convince more conservative folks that unshorn draft-dodgers couldn’t be all bad if they could appreciate, say, the bottomless pathos of a George Jones ballad or the glittery grit of Buck Owens. And on the flip side, as the writer John Einarson put in his 2008 book Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers, Parsons was also interested in “educating the hippie masses on the wealth of wonderfully authentic American music hidden right under their noses.” Parsons had lofty goals for his art. A superstar in his own mind before almost anybody knew who he was, he believed fervently that his Cosmic American Music could deliver nothing short of salvation.

Throw these two perspectives together the idealist and the pragmatist toss in no small amount of drugs, as well as a pedal steel virtuoso who never quit his day job as a claymation animator on Gumby (!), and you get all the tension and late-’60s weirdness that resulted in an imperfectly near-perfect record, the Flying Burrito Brothers’ 1969 cult-favourite country-rock touchstone, “The Gilded Palace of Sin”.

The production on Gilded Palace is especially rich. (A&M’s house producer Larry Marks, assigned to helm the debut album of his label’s newest signees, later described his role on Gilded Palace quite humbly, as more of a “hall monitor on the job [to] make sure the album got finished and things didn’t get out of hand.” In that sense at least, mission accomplished.)

But there’s a strange vitality to this record that makes its supposed imperfections feel charming, even meaningful. Many people close to the band believed Marks never got the vocals to sound quite right. Certainly one of the strangest and most polarizing choices he made was, on the many songs that employ the Burritos’ Everly Brothers-inspired two-part harmonies, to split the frontmen’s voices into separate stereo channels: Parsons’ high lonesome drawl on the left, Hillman’s earthy croon on the right—and your impressionable skull in between. But that means listening to the record on headphones gives the intimate and uncanny feeling that you’ve got a little devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, each murmuring their conflicting advice right into your ears before joining together in the mellifluous conclusion that maybe they’ve both got some pretty good points after all.

Parsons was born, infamously, into a wealthy family that controlled one-third of the citrus crop in Florida. Both parents drank prodigiously and neglected their kids’ emotional needs. Parsons’ father killed himself two days before Christmas, when Gram was 12. He left his son a generous but haunting Christmas present: A reel-to-reel tape recorder a rare thing to own at the time on which Gram’s father had left a recording telling his son he’d always love him.

Around the same time, across the country in San Diego County, Hillman’s idyllic middle-class childhood had become saturated with cowboy imagery and country music. He learned to play mandolin as a teenager and gigged with bluegrass bands like the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers and the Hillmen. But then Hillman’s own father died when he was 16, and unlike Parsons, that meant he had to transfer to night school and work a day job to help support the family. From that divide came the lopsided work ethic that would later define their band.

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In mid-1968, though, Parsons and Hillman found themselves with quite a bit in common. They’d both just exited serious relationships and they’d both quit the same band, the Byrds. Hillman had been a Byrd since his late teens, and he’d been around for the band’s sudden success. Parsons was a late-comer. His stint in the group lasted less than a year, but he had helped steer them in a new, countrified direction on 1968’s prescient country-rock landmark “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”. Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn was never sure that was the right direction. “He turned out to be a monster in sheep’s clothing,” he notoriously said of Parsons, “And he exploded out of that sheep’s clothing. Good God! It’s George Jones in a sequin suit!”—but now in their own band, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Parsons and Hillman were finally free to be as twangy as they damn well pleased.

One of the first and finest songs they wrote together was “Sin City,” a mournful ballad that blends Biblical imagery and vivid psychedelia; a smoggy cast of late-’60s-California impending doom holds the whole thing together. “This whole town’s filled with sin, it’ll swallow you in, if you’ve got some money to burn,” the boys begin in tandem. In this song at least, “Sin City” is not the town of latter-day Elvis and roulette tables, but Los Angeles, the dreamscape that each of them had migrated to, hoping in vain to satisfy their earthly desires.

Parsons and Hillman wouldn’t always get along, but they did then. When they were writing some of the songs that would appear on “Gilded Palace of Sin”, Hillman described them as “two heartbroken bachelor guys sharing a house together.” They rented a three-bedroom rancher in Reseda, far enough from the Sunset Strip to stay focused on writing and relatively out of trouble. Hillman has called it the most creatively productive time of his and Parsons’ lives. “We woke up in the morning and would write as opposed to the usual being out until five in the morning,” he said. “We were writing every day on a spontaneous schedule. I’ve never peaked like that, working with other people.”

With Parsons and Hillman both playing rhythm guitar and splitting up lead vocals, the Flying Burrito Brothers’ sound had room for a lead instrument. Enter “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow, a visual effects animator who moonlit around L.A.’s country bar circuit as a well-respected pedal-steel player. He joined the Burritos shortly before they hit the studio in late 1968. Parsons and Hillman had both wanted Kleinow to join the Byrds on the “Sweetheart” tour, and McGuinn’s refusal was one of the many reasons they both left. Putting such emphasis on Kleinow’s instrument was certainly a gamble. To rock audiences of the time, pedal-steel was the cilantro in the soup—a single element with the dubious potential to overpower everything.

“Sneaky” Pete was no ordinary pedal-steel player. He used unique, unorthodox tunings and ran his instrument through a fuzz-box as though it were an electric guitar. The 16-track console at A&M Studios allowed Sneaky to experiment with space and time more than he ever could on stage, overdubbing lacerating licks and layered textures at the forefront of songs like “Christine’s Tune” and “Hot Burrito #2.” “Country is a music of traditional forms; Sneaky Pete played a classically country instrument in an entirely new way,” Meyer notes. His distinct signature blazes through “Gilded Palace of Sin” like wildfire.

Mississippi-born bassist Chris Ethridge rounded out the band’s original line-up. (They had trouble finding a drummer in the beginning, and a handful of different session players contributed to Gilded Palace.) He, too, was a fruitful writing partner for Parsons: Together they composed two of the record’s most beloved songs, “Hot Burrito #1” and “Hot Burrito #2.” .

The Burrito suite contains Parsons’ only solo lead vocals on the album, and taken together they’re two sides of the same coin the glinting fool’s gold of human desire.

“Hot Burrito #1” is a swooning, barroom-piano ballad that Parsons animates with a wrenching vocal performance. “I’m your toy, I’m your old boy, but I don’t want no one but you to love me,” he croons, grasping in the direction of something—someone—just out of reach. Then a song later—as Ethridge’s melodic bassline kicks off “Hot Burrito #2” he’s got the girl he wanted and now he’s restless as hell, dissatisfied with the sudden demands of domestic life. “When I come home/Carrying my shoes/I’ve been waiting/To tell you some news… And you want me home all night?!” he hollers, in passionate disbelief. It would seem that the burrito is always hotter on the other side.

For a wannabe rock star, Parsons innately understood the power of spectacle. Before the album cover shoot, he took the band to be outfitted for custom Nudie Suits, by the legendary country-spangled tailor Nudie Cohn. Each member’s outfit reflected something of his personality: Hillman looks regal, if a little stiff, in blue velvet, Ethridge plays Southern gentleman in a long floral-embroidered jacket, Sneaky Pete asked for a velvet sweatshirt with a huge pterodactyl on it, because why not. The pièce de résistance was Parsons, who, ever the purveyor of self-mythology, requested a personalized collage of all his vices: Marijuana leaves, pills, pin-up girls, and sugar cubes dotted with acid proudly besmirch the pure white sleeves of his suit.

One good thing about discovering “Gilded Palace of Sin” long after its 1969 release is that it was not really one of those “you had to be there and see ’em live” things.“I cannot recall one performance that the original band did where I wasn’t embarrassed to tears,” Sneaky Pete told an interviewer in 1999. It was difficult to replicate all those pedal-steel overdubs on stage, yes. But also quite often various band members would be… well, “high” goes without saying, but sometimes high on different drugs, which makes staying in rhythm a real adventure. (A coked-up lead singer and a bassist on downers is what we call a complicated time signature.) This original incarnation of the Burritos was generally a mess on the road, which did not do much to put them in their label’s good graces. Slashed promotional budgets followed, and though it earned some critical acclaim and coveted co-signs “Gilded Palace” sold only about 40,000 copies in its first run.

When he co-founded the Flying Burrito Brothers, Parsons already had a reputation for leapfrogging unceremoniously from band to band. He left the International Submarine Band before their first album even came out to join the more successful Byrds, and an accelerating factor in his abrupt departure from the Byrds was the fact that he’d suddenly befriended members of the even-cooler Rolling Stones. When “Gilded Palace” flopped and it became clear that the Flying Burrito Brothers weren’t going to be his ticket to overnight stardom, he veered sharply into self-sabotage until, inevitably, Hillman kicked him out of the band. They continued releasing tighter, if less soulful, records with various revolving-door line-ups; a version of the band with no original members and only vague connections to the original name is still making music. Parsons’ drug problems, on the other hand, worsened. He continued to live hard, fast, and impatiently; he died of a morphine overdose in a Joshua Tree motel room when he was just 26 years old.

Gilded Palace of Sin” would not have existed without Chris Hillman, and for that he deserves infinite credit. It was no small feat to keep Gram Parsons out of his own way for a few focused months in the fall of 1968; the unfortunate failures and tantalizing what-if’s that marked the rest of his recording career are a testament to that. But it’s also true that on this wonderful record Parsons is clearly able to access a current of emotion and vulnerability that still remained elusive to Hillman. “They did the same thing,” Byrds producer Jim Dickson reflects in Meyer’s biography, “but Gram was willing to put feeling into his songs and Chris never was.”

Gram Parsons’ mid-’70s solo records, “GP” and the posthumously released “Grievous Angel,” have an almost talismanic power, Such is their cult appeal. “Gilded Palace of Sin” is different: The last track on the record, “Hippie Boy,” captures that. It is at once the least and most serious song in the Flying Burrito Brothers’ arsenal a spoken-word imagined conversation between a long-haired youth and the sort of seemingly close-minded guy Parsons might have encountered at the Palomino bar. Hillman plays both parts, though Parsons directed him accordingly (“He has to drink a fifth of scotch before he does it to feel the whole thing,” he insisted at the time. “He can’t smoke an ounce of grass.”) “Hippie Boy” is a utopian vision of togetherness, so sincere it has to be played a bit ironically. As the song, and the record, concludes, a drunken chorus of off-key voices join together to sing a few quick lines of the old hymn “Peace in the Valley.” It’s a beautifully stirring moment, and it ends too soon. The cosmic promise of a better world streaks momentarily across the sky, and then in an instant it’s gone.

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Country music’s influence on rock ’n’ roll is nearly as old as rock itself, a dominant gene in rockabilly and vocal touchstone for seminal artists from Elvis to Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. in 1968 the rise of a school of artists consciously bridging those genres, accelerating the pace that two of the sub-genre’s defining albums would overlap in conception even as the bands creating them buckled under internal strain.

The Byrds had enjoyed first mover advantage in recording “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, spurred on by Gram Parsons, a 21-year-old singer-songwriter whose deep love for Southern country and R&B found a kindred spirit in bassist Chris Hillman and pragmatic support from lead guitarist Roger McGuinn. Country influences were already in the air, not only in originals and covers from the Beatles, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds themselves, but also in up and coming artists like Bobbie Gentry and Linda Ronstadt.

Before “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” hit stores in late August, Parsons had bolted from the band on the eve of South African dates and veered into a bromance with Keith Richards that injected the Rolling Stones with country influences while fanning Parsons’ own dreams of rock glory. After hanging out in London with Richards, Parsons returned to Los Angeles in early August weighing his next move.

The Flying Burrito Brothers’ original line up: Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Gram Parsons, Chris Ethridge and Chris Hillman. The recording line up had yet to add a drummer

Meanwhile, Chris Hillman had left the Byrds’ coop after increasing tensions with management. Despite an earlier falling out with Parsons, Hillman reconciled with the Florida-born, Georgia-raised musician. The erstwhile combatants once more bonded over music and even became roommates, writing the bulk of what would become the original material on the debut for the Flying Burrito Brothers. Chris Ethridge was recruited as bassist, freeing Hillman to play guitar and mandolin, and the duo tapped Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel guitar.

The chance to snag a new band with two Byrds quickly drew competing bids from Warner Bros. and A&M Records, with A&M winning the battle. In contrast to the sessions for Sweetheart, shepherded by a seasoned producer and crack session players, the Burritos entered the studio with a big advance, a lot of ideas, a fledgling co-producer who was no match for the strong-willed Parsons and Hillman, and no drummer. The Burritos would share producer credits with A&M’s Larry Marks and engineer Henry Lewy, reflecting a more chaotic studio environment that would find them going through a collection of drummers.

Gram Parsons had envisioned the Burritos as “his” band, but The Gilded Palace of Sin, released in early February of ’69, underscores the partnership between Parsons and Hillman, who co-wrote six of the album’s eight originals. The opening track, “Christine’s Tune,” finds them sharing lead vocals and driving acoustic rhythm guitars, with harmonies built on classic thirds that harken back to the Louvin Brothers, the Everlys and other high, lonesome harmony singers. An overly ripe bassline evidently designed to emphasize rock power loses its edge to muddiness, but Sneaky Pete’s pedal steel commands centre stage with an aggressive, fuzz-toned attack and his own unorthodox tunings.

A stop-motion animator and special effects craftsman, Kleinow provides a potent departure from the more traditional steel parts heard on Sweetheart, leaning here into the rock side of the sub-genre’s equation. Kleinow unleashes that power elsewhere on Gilded Palace while proving his skill with more traditional accents on the ballads, starting with “Sin City,” a country waltz that trades in the sin and salvation polarity central to Parsons’ vision for an amalgam of country, rhythm ’n’ blues and rock.

Its synthesis of country soundscape with urban modernism strikes an apocalyptic tone. “On the thirty-first floor, a gold-plated door won’t keep out the Lord’s burning rain,” the duo sings in a prophesy that warns “this old earthquake’s gonna leave me in the poor house.” They could be singing about L.A. or Las Vegas; heard today, it’s hard not to envision the gilded escalators in Trump Tower.

The R&B component in Parsons’ “cosmic” Southern synthesis leads him back to Memphis, source for Sweetheart’s countrified R&B cover (“You Don’t Miss Your Water”). this time yielding two superb ballads sharing lyrics from Dan Penn. “Do Right Woman,” written with Chips Moman, was a sensuous Aretha Franklin cut demanding equal sexual satisfaction from her man, a contract that survives its gender flip as another gliding country waltz. Instead of changing the mood or their compass bearings, the Burritos follow with the darker sexual torment of “Dark End of the Street,” a Penn collaboration with Spooner Oldham. Parsons dominates the vocals with an audible anguish over a locked battle between passion and guilt for two lovers “hiding in shadows where we don’t belong,” resigned to the inevitability of discovery and shame in a tableau of illicit love familiar in both country and soul tropes.

For two self-referential album tracks, Parsons wrote with Chris Ethridge. “Hot Burrito #1” is another soulful ballad that dispenses with any hint of sexual guilt to remind an ex-lover that “I’m the one who showed you how/To do the things you’re doing now” in frank sexual metaphors. With “Hot Burrito #2,” Ethridge grounds the track in a strutting bassline as Parsons rants about a lover’s quarrel with an eyebrow-raising opening “Yes, you loved me and you sold all my clothes.” If the lyrics verge on incoherence, the track itself is a lively standout.

Elsewhere, Parsons and Hillman nod to the tension between their music’s Southern roots and their countercultural instincts. On “My Uncle,” Hillman takes the lead on vocals and mandolin as a young American pondering the draft who’s “heading for the nearest northern border” against a fleet bluegrass backdrop. And on the closing “Hippie Boy,” Hillman reverses roles for a poker-faced, spoken word sermon as a redneck whose encounter with a hippie brings something like peace, love, understanding and the sage advice to “never carry more than you can eat.”

With the album completed, the Burritos recruited a third Byrd, drummer Michael Clarke, but chaotic behavior sabotaged supporting tour dates as they burned through the label’s advance, missing a crucial New York date. The Gilded Palace of Sin stalled on the Billboard chart, considerably worse than Sweetheart’s disappointing tally months earlier. The addition of Bernie Leadon would strengthen them musically, but Gram Parsons was already restless. He would leave “his” band after the Burritos completed a scattershot follow-up, Burrito Deluxe.

Thanks Sam Sutherland

The Flying Burrito Brothers The Gilded Palace Of Sin album cover web optimised 820

When The Gilded Palace Of Sin was released, on 6th February 1969, sales were initially not good but their debut album by The Flying Burrito Brothers has since earned its status as one of the defining albums of country-rock and Americana music. named it as one of the 500 essential albums all music lovers should own.

Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman formed the The Flying Burrito Brothers after both leaving The Byrds. They brought in bassist Chris Ethridge and pedal steel guitarist Pete Kleinow to complete the line-up, appropriating the band’s name from a group of Los Angeles musicians who gathered for jam sessions.

“We’re a rock’n’roll band that sounds like a country band,” said Gram Parsons, a Harvard theology student drop-out who was 22 when the album was made. The singer-songwriter, guitarist and keyboardist is acclaimed as one of the most innovative forces in country music, becoming a huge influence on musicians as diverse as Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams and Lucinda Williams.

There are 11 songs on The Gilded Palace Of Sin, including the haunting classic ‘Sin City’, which was co-written by Hillman and Parsons, and which included allusions to contemporary figures such as Robert Kennedy (“A friend came around/Tried to clean up this town”), who had been assassinated in June 1968.

Hillman said he woke up one morning with the lines “This old town’s filled with sin/It’ll swallow you in” swimming in his head. He roused his flatmate Parsons and they completed the song in about 30 minutes. “It was just before Christmas and it was about to rain; and we were living in the San Fernando Valley in a tract type home,” Hillman recalled. ‘Sin City’ has been covered by scores of musicians .

There was a spontaneity to the album’s production that helps make The Gilded Palace Of Sin sound fresh half a century later. Chris Ethridge said, “I told Gram I had a couple of old melodies from back when I was growing up. I played them for him and we wrote the two songs that day, ‘Hot Burrito #1’ and ‘Hot Burrito #2’, and then that night went into the studio and cut ’em.”

As well as being full of modern Americana classics – including the achingly beautiful two-part harmonies on songs such as ‘Juanita’ and ‘Wheels’ – there were also innovative cover songs. Hillman said that Parsons opened him up to new musical experiences by setting the challenge of taking great soul songs – such as ‘The Dark End Of The Street’ – and reinventing them.

Hillman said, “We also took the interesting song ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’, which was Aretha Franklin’s big soul song at the time, but we did it country. That was the genius of Parsons. He got me into looking beyond the country parameters.” They brought in David Crosby to sing backing vocals on that track.

Drummer Jon Corneal, who had worked with a teenage Parsons in The International Submarine Band, and went on to work with Loretta Lynn, played on five tracks and was one of four drummers used on the album.

One of the qualities that underscores the whole album, right from the energetic opening track, ‘Christine’s Song’, is the brilliant playing of “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel guitar. In 1969, the Burritos didn’t really have a lead guitarist so a lot of the solos fell to Kleinow. Parsons used to call him “The Maharishi Of Country Music”, and Kleinow became one of the most sought-after session musicians in the business.

‘My Uncle’ (the only track to feature Hillman on mandolin) and ‘Hippie Boy’ are counterculture songs of the time about the Vietnam draft and the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots in Chicago, which Parsons described as “the toughest challenge on the album”.

The album’s artwork is also special. It was overseen by Tom Wilkes, who had joined A&M after being the art director of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Parsons had arranged for custom-made Nudie suits to be created by the acclaimed designer Nudie Cohn. Parson’s one, which featured red poppies and marijuana leaves, hangs in the Country Music Hall Of Fame. Wilkes said: “We decided to take them out to the desert and do something kind of surreal with the Nudie suits, shot by Barry Feinstein. And they looked great anyway. They looked funky and kind of country western and kind of rock.”

Gram Parsons, who was aged 26 when he died, in 1973, left a marvellous legacy, including The Gilded Palace Of Sin, which helped draw the blueprint for both 70s country-rock, Americana and the sound. On November. 6th in 1973: road manager Phil Kaufman & friend Michael Martin were charged & fined $300 each for the theft of a coffin containing the body of country rock singer-songwriter Gram Parsons; the court heard that the two men were merely carrying out Gram’s wishes to be cremated in the desert; the pair had stolen the body & driven it to Joshua Tree in a borrowed hearse, where they attempted to cremate it by pouring five gallons of gasoline into the open coffin & throwing a lit match inside, resulting in an enormous fireball…

In 1969, The Flying Burrito Brothers welcomed listeners into their “Gilded Palace Of Sin”.  The album, released on Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’ A&M label, heralded a new style of music – one which co-founder Gram Parsons would famously dub “Cosmic American Music.”  Indeed, the sounds emanating from this Palace were, at the same time, surprisingly traditional and completely radical.  For the Burritos melded the harmonies of the Everlys or the Louvins with the gutbucket soul of the deep south, the instrumentation of classic Nashville, and the experimentation of psychedelia.  The sound created on The Gilded Palace of Sin would come to be known as country-rock, and influence a generation of performers, perhaps most notably the Eagles but also bands from Poco to Wilco.  Intervention Records has recently given the deluxe audiophile treatment to this landmark cult-classic album, with a new 180-gram vinyl pressing.  (A hybrid stereo SACD edition will follow later this year, as well.)  Intervention’s reissue is both faithful to the sound of the original LP while actually improving on it.

That this was no ordinary country record, or rock record, was evident from the very first track.  “Christine’s Tune” was written and sung by Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, both late of The Byrds. (Parsons had also been a member of The International Submarine Band, itself a progenitor of the country rock genre.)  The band was rounded out by Chris Ethridge on bass and “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow on steel guitar, while the drum seat was occupied by a number of musicians including “Fast” Eddie Hoh“Christine’s Tune” has a classic country-and-western storyline about a woman who’s a “devil in disguise,” but underneath the harmonies and Parsons’ acoustic style was Hillman’s psychedelic electric guitar on the verge of a freakout, and Kleinow’s offbeat steel playing – both captivating and disconcerting.  (Bernie Leadon, who served in the group as of its second album and went on to join the Eagles, noted that Kleinow usually played an eight-string Fender cable pull steel tuned to B6 instead of the expected C6.  He played in a jazz style that others might typically have used an E9 tuning for, and utilized a fuzzbox and played his instrument through a rotating Leslie speaker, to add unusual effects.)  Kleinow’s presence was a reprieve for the steel guitar, an instrument that had been largely eschewed by Nashville in the wake of the lush, pop-oriented Nashville Sound.

Parsons and Hillman’s cautionary tale of “Sin City” was another classic country lament (“This old earthquake’s gonna leave me in the poorhouse/It seems like this whole town’s insane…”) but with striking religious imagery, as well.  Parsons and Hillman weren’t pulling any punches in bringing the rootsy country sound they loved – one which had been largely pushed to the side in the countrypolitan era – and fusing it to a youthful rock-and-roll sensibility.

A number of the Parsons/Hillman originals were very much of their time.  “My Uncle” juxtaposed a jaunty bluegrass melody with the narrator’s story of “heading for the nearest foreign border” to evade the draft, very much a specter lingering over young men in 1969.  “Wheels,” too, was transporting – a typical country song in its longing and plea to “come on wheels, take this boy away,” but also with a spiritual streak and likely drug references, as well.  Chris Etheridge’s barroom piano lends another happily unexpected grace note to the track.  Hillman recites the spoken-word “Hippie Boy” which ends the album on a note of sadness and tragedy.  (It was a direct reflection on the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots.)

Ethridge teamed with Parsons to write two of the album’s standout tracks, “Hot Burrito No. 1” and “Hot Burrito No. 2.”  Elvis Costello retitled the former “I’m Your Toy,” reasoning that the original title was dignified enough for this beautiful ballad which underscores the influence of southern soul writers like Dan Penn on the Burritos.  Both “No. 1” and the more driving “No. 2” feature quavering, tender leads from Parsons, joined on “No. 2” by Hillman and Ethridge on background vocals.  Barry Goldberg stepped in to co-write “Do You Know How It Feels” with Parsons, grafting a melancholy, classic country lyric to catchy melody ripe for a saloon sing-along.

The Gilded Palace of Sin‘s two covers were significant reminders of the R&B and soul underpinning, too.  Both were written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman: “Do Right Woman” and “Dark End of the Street.”  Though the songs undoubtedly belong to Aretha Franklin and James Carr, respectively, Hillman, Parsons and the Burritos traced a direct line from Memphis to Nashville – via Los Angeles, where the album was recorded.  (Note that “Dark End” is credited on the album to Penn’s most frequent writing partner, Spooner Oldham. This is not an error on Intervention’s part, but rather is just faithful to the original LP sleeve.)

Parsons only lasted for one more album with the Burritos, while Gilded Palace turned out to be Chris Ethridge’s debut and swansong with the band.  By the time of the band’s fourth album, released in 1972, Chris Hillman was The Last of the Red Hot Burritos.  Since then, various iterations of the band have formed and re-formed, and one such splinter group called The Burrito Brothers still tours today.  Gram Parsons died in 1973, having furthered his musical mission with a pair of solo records featuring Emmylou Harris – the second of which was released after his untimely death.  The Gilded Palace of Sin is still the most cohesive record of Parsons’ career, on which he crystallized his ambitions and talents into a singular piece of art.  Though few originally bought the record, its reputation quickly grew among artists and collectors alike, and its influence from pop to alt-country can hardly be understated.

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Intervention’s splendidly detailed remaster of The Gilded Palace of Sin maintains the almost woozy, psychedelic ambiance of the album produced by the band, Larry Marks, and Henry Lewy, while bringing vivid detail and clarity to the stinging guitars, tight harmonies, and especially Chris Ethridge’s bass which anchors the LP with resonance.  Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio has remastered (100% AAA analog, notes the label) from a 1/2″ safety copy of the original stereo master tapes as housed in the Universal vaults.  This RTI pressing, on heavyweight vinyl, lives up to its promise of being “dead quiet” and makes a powerful case for the warmth of its analog sound.  The LP, boasting period A&M labels, is housed in a protective sleeve within a sturdy Stoughton-printed “tip-on” jacket, replicating the original artwork.

thanks To The Second Disc

So where would that leave the legacy of a cult artist like Gram Parsons, who died in 1973 at the age of 26 with but a small, yet influential body of work, as the 21st-century marches ever onward? If you are of a certain age, and presuming that you are a pretty big music fan, you no doubt have heard and hopefully appreciate the “cosmic American music” of this golden-voiced country rock progenitor/genius. To be sure, I think that there’s still a pretty strong cult following of Gram Parsons fans , but in 2017 its members tend to be know-it-all aging boomers with graying ponytails who want to give you their opinions of whatever album you happen to be looking at in a record store.

Only in Southern California, always a stronghold of Flying Burrito Bros. fandom, does there seem to be an organic all ages awareness of the great Gram Parsons. This has much to do with the desert and how inextricably intertwined the desert trip is with the mythos of Parsons’ death by OD in room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn and how his body was subsequently stolen and given a drunken cremation near Cap Rock by his manager, Phil Kaufman.

It’s a SoCal rite of passage to do magic mushrooms in Joshua Tree and trip out under the desert stars listening to “The Gilded Palace of Sin” by the Flying Burrito Bros. as there is simply no greater soundtrack for this sort of activity in that particular place . Its a specifically a desert thing. .

Which is why the word needs to get out about this release by Intervention Records who recently released vinyl and also SACD re-issue of “The Gilded Palace Of Sin”. Mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio, this is one of the best-sounding slabs of wax that I’ve heard , which is exactly what you would want someone to say if you’re a new boutique record label catering to the jaded (and easily disappointed) audiophiles. Think you’ve heard it all? Wait until you’ve heard this! That beautiful young man’s quivering, vulnerable, plaintive voice, those harmonies with Chris Hillman and the exquisite chime of Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s buzzing, warmly-distorted almost psychedelic steel guitar, it’s all there in the grooves as never before, like they coaxed some extra music particles off the low generation analog tapes it was mastered from. Since I first heard The Gilded Palace Of Sin in the early 70’s .

I’ve listened to it hundreds of times, but this is something else entirely. Always an exhilarating—and well-recorded—album to begin with, this absolutely sparkling pressing by Intervention represents the apex of the state of the art analog “triple A” production (no digital anywhere in the workflow) going today. They even make a new vinyl stamper after every 5000 uses . If you’re looking for some primo vinyl to throw at your turntable, this is as good as it gets, a record you will find yourself flipping over and playing again and again and again. (And although I’d bet this is their showpiece, Intervention Records have also released exquisite editions of classic albums by Joe Jackson, Big Audio Dynamite, Stealers Wheel and they’ve announced some upcoming Judee Sill releases. Everything I’ve heard from them is crazy-ly good, 10/10 stuff. Every audiophile should keep an eye on what they’re releasing.)

Although there are several books, bootlegs, live albums and compilations, plus a great feature length documentary , there are precious few examples of Gram Parsons on film or video. Less than a handful for sure. This performance, provenance unknown to me, is the Flying Burrito Bros. doing one of their very best numbers—and perhaps Parsons’ greatest ever vocal performance—the oddly named heartbreaker “Hot Burrito #1” (It and “Hot Burrito #2” were both written on the same day and both recorded that very same evening.) If there can only be a few clips of Gram Parsons in action, this is the best.