Thursday, August 23, 2007

No. 117: Sweetheart of the Rodeo

Band: The Byrds
Album: Sweetheart of the Rodeo
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: One of the classic records of country rock, "Sweetheart Of The Rodeo" has tons of country ballads, Dylan tracks and standards. David Crosby and Michael Clarke were gone and had been replaced by Kevin Kelley and a very young Gram Parsons.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Country rock -- even by the Byrdsm a pretty great band -- isn't my thing. The gestation of early alt-country is interesting, but the later stuff (Uncle Tupelo) is much better.
Best song: "Hickory Wind" isn't bad. "One Hundred Years From Now" is pretty good. That's Gram Parsons for you, I guess.
Worst song: "I Am A Pilgrim" is a religious type of thing, which I can't support on any level.
Is it awesome?: I'd say no, but it's not my type of music.

Roger McGuinn's Byrds had just come off the rocky recording and promotion for "The Notorious Byrd Brothers," and went in a direction that was a pretty big departure for the band. They went to Nashville -- without David Crosby or Michael Clarke -- to record a country record, essentially.

Save for the stomp of "You Got A Reputation" and "One Hundred Years From Now" (which features a pretty heavy slide guitar part itself), the album is made up almost entirely of the Byrds' folk rock tinged with heavy country influences. In addition to the record having a Merle Haggard song, as well as two Christian traditionals, the Byrds played their standard two Dylan songs.

The Byrds were always a great folk group and country isn't too far from folk, for the most part. So, the record doesn't sound totally out of catalog for the band. The addition of Gram Parsons as both a songwriter and musician fits in quite well, as his sensibilities aren't too far off from the band's. Still, Roger McGuinn was maniacal about making sure Parsons was in the background, even rerecording some vocal takes Parsons had put down.

This particular Byrds lineup didn't last particularly long, as Parsons was fired from the band during the subsequent tour and Kevin Kelley quit soon thereafter. But the mark had been made. The wheels were in motion for alt country's construction.

(Parons, of course, later lead The Flying Burrito Brothers, probably the most celebrated alt country/outlaw country band ever.)

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