The Bible of country rock
Despite being a newcomer Gram Parsons had a huge influence on Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, the Byrds record that inaugurated what is now known as country rock, but, even though he was the main driving force, that band was still ruled by Roger McGuinn and that's why that record sounded like an anthropologist approaching country.
But for Parsons country was as natural as rock. At a time when they were seen as polar opposites the singer saw the two types of music as perfect companions, being passionate about the simple poetry of country and also the rebelliousness of rock. Chris Hillman, who was the member of the Byrds who knew the most about that music, as he had his roots in bluegrass, saw it clearly, Parsons was the perfect vehicle to mix both kinds of music and, although he had been flirting with that fusion since the times of Turn, Turn, Turn with the Byrds, he left McGuinn and went with the young Parsons to form the Flying Burrito Brothers.
From the name chosen to the famous costumes made for them by famed designer Nudie Cohn you can see where Parsons was headed in search of his ideal of 'Cosmic American Music', which fused country, rock, folk and soul. His wonderful Nudie suit explains it perfectly, the same tailor as Hank Williams and Elvis but with marijuana leaves, pills and poppies (the plant from which heroin is extracted).
For that strange mix the two leaders teamed up with Chris Etheridge and the other distinctive element of the band, the pedal Steel of 'Sneaky' Pete Kleinow, with a sound all his own within the instrument, sometimes aided by a fuzzbox and by running the instrument through a Leslie, giving a psychedelic flavor to the mix.
Thus began the album, with the explosive Christine's Tune (Devil In Disguise) serving to introduce Kleinow's shimmering pedal steel and the Everly Brothers-style harmony singing vocals of Parsons and Hillman. The song was mainly Parsons' and was about David Crosby's girlfriend of the time. Then came the wonderful Sin City, composed by Hillman and Parsons, in which their voices matched perfectly, bringing to mind other siblings, in this case the Louvin Brothers.
Next came a couple of excellent covers of soul tunes like Do Right Woman, written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn for Aretha Franklin, and the wonderful Dark End Of The Street, by the same composers for James Carr. They are two perfect vehicles for Parsons' voice and demonstrate his eagerness to also unite country and soul as proven on another of the album's best original songs, Hot Burrito #1, which contains one of his best vocal takes, totally passionate and fiery, which should have featured a cover by Aretha or James Carr, in response to Parsons'. More uptempo, but also close to soul, is Hot Burrito #2, another collaboration between Parsons and bassist Chris Etheridge, with another great psychedelic contribution by Kleinow with his pedal steel.
The album was released on February 6, 1969, sold just over 50,000 copies and went unnoticed by critics. As had happened shortly before with Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, the rock public considered it too country and the country public too ironic and 'hippie'.
But time proved that among the little more than 50,000 people who bought the album it became a religion and, suddenly, groups began to emerge following in its wake. From this album came all the subsequent blends of country and rock, from the most conservative and successful ones like the Eagles or Linda Rondstadt to the most adventurous like the alternative country of Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown and Jayhawks, without forgetting people like Dwight Yoakam, Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle, meaning that we can speak of this The Gilded Palace Of Sin as the Bible of country rock.