Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Gram Parsons [extended]

  • The Gilded Palace of Sin [A&M, 1969]
  • Burrito Deluxe [A&M, 1970] B+
  • The Flying Burrito Bros. [A&M, 1971] C+
  • Last of the Red Hot Burritos [A&M, 1972] B
  • GP [Reprise, 1973] B+
  • Grievous Angel [Reprise, 1974] A
  • Close Up the Honky Tonks [A&M, 1974] B-
  • Sleepless Nights [A&M, 1976] B-
  • Live 1973 [Sierra, 1982] B+
  • Farther Along: The Best of the Flying Burrito Brothers [A&M, 1988] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin [A&M, 1969]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library; CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

The Flying Burrito Brothers: Burrito Deluxe [A&M, 1970]
The Gilded Palace of Sin was an ominous, obsessive, tongue-in-cheek country-rock synthesis, absorbing rural and urban, traditional and contemporary, at point of impact. This is a skillful, lightweight folk-rock blend, enlivening the tempos and themes of the country music whose usages it honors. Its high point is called "Older Guys," a rock (as opposed to rock and roll) idea by definition, and though songs like "Cody, Cody" and "Man in the Fog"--as well as Jagger-Richard's previously unrecorded "Wild Horses"--obviously speak from Gram Parsons's Waycross soul, they're vague enough for Chris Hillman's folkie harmonies to take them over. B+

The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Flying Burrito Bros. [A&M, 1971]
Gram Parsons having gone off to follow whatever it is he follows, the Burritos are a solid, plaintive country band with rock influences. Realer than average, and nicer, but just as easy to ignore. C+

The Flying Burrito Brothers: Last of the Red Hot Burritos [A&M, 1972]
Chris Hillman rocking through previously unrecorded covers from "Orange Blossom Special" to "Don't Fight It," Gram Parsons's original country-soul concept for this band lives again. Unfortunately, it lives best on the previously recorded Parsons originals. And it lived better when he was singing them. B

GP [Reprise, 1973]
In which Parsons stakes his claim to everything he loves about country music--its bathos, its moral fervor, its sense of peril. Whether he's replicating these qualities in his own songs or finding them in the genuine article, his interpretations achieve the synthesis of skepticism and longing that drove him to devise country-rock in the first place. Physically, he isn't always up to what he knows--that's a folkie's voice cracking on "She"--but he can be proud that the only track here that beats Tompall Glaser's "Streets of Baltimore" is his own "Kiss the Children." B+

Grievous Angel [Reprise, 1974]
On GP, Emmylou Harris was a backup musician; here she cuts Parsons's soulfully dilettantish quaver with dry, dulcet mountain spirituality. On GP, Parsons was undeviating in his dolor; here he opens up the honky tonks, if only to announce that he can't dance. The best Gram Parsons album--and hence the best country-rock album--since Gilded Palace of Sin, with all that irony and mystery translated from metaphor into narrative. A

The Flying Burrito Brothers: Close Up the Honky Tonks [A&M, 1974]
This repackaged best-of-Gram is baited with five previously unreleased Parsons vocals. These are nice, but since even an unreconstructed Parsons nut like me can reel off more interesting cover versions of "Sing Me Back Home" (the Everlys), "Break My Mind" (the Box Tops), and "To Love Somebody" (initials: JJ), maybe they were unreleased for a reason. It also puts the six greatest cuts off Gilded Palace of Sin on one side, a convenience I'd appreciate more if Gilded Palace of Sin, the only full-fledged country-rock masterpiece, weren't still in the catalogue. Your local record retailer will no doubt order you one if you take the trouble of kidnapping his children. B-

Gram Parsons/The Flying Burrito Brothers: Sleepless Nights [A&M, 1976]
These cover versions--some cut with Emmylou, some with the Bros., all but two previously unreleased--were outtakes for a reason (shaky vocals and/or conceptual irrelevance, usually), and they don't make him any more alive. For archivists only. B-

Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels: Live 1973 [Sierra, 1982]
I don't know why it took eight years, but after several botches on A&M here it is, a satisfying live-posthumous from the inventor of country-rock, for which he is not to blame. All five A-songs are more forceful on GP, but these versions (recorded in downhome Hempstead, Long Island) have a grace and lightness that for once show off the advantages of folkie roots, as does the new stuff on side two. Emmylou fills her appointed role, N.D. Smart II keeps things moving smartly, and a good time is had by all. B+

The Flying Burrito Brothers: Farther Along: The Best of the Flying Burrito Brothers [A&M, 1988]
"I don't think I ever really appreciated Gram until these last few years," allows Chris Hillman, whose 1970 arrival catalyzed the Burritos' decline into one-dimensional "country-rock," a term Hillman disdains, probably because "folk-rock" is more his speed. "This collection represents the best and worst of the `Parsons-era Burritos,'" he clucks, and since Parsons's worst was brainier and more soulful than the folk/country-rock norm, that's why even the outtakes--four songs and one version never available on any U.S. album, including a Bee Gees cover I bet Chris vetoed--have more bite than most anything they recorded after their genius moved farther along. I miss "My Uncle" and even "Hippie Boy" from Gilded Palace of Sin, and "Other Guys," their least Hillmanesque effort thereafter. But any reissue that respects even the cut order of a timeless LP that it reproduces almost in full deserves its digital remix. Which doesn't overdo the drums, by the way. A

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