Battle of the Band: Burrito Brothers

by Kevin Wierzbicki

The Flying Burrito Brothers - Live in Amsterdam 1972

The lineup of the Flying Burrito Brothers was in constant flux in the '70s and really, throughout their entire career but there are a good bunch of fellows in the band here, notably singer Rick Roberts who would soon go on to be a founding member of Firefall, and acclaimed fiddle player Byron Berline. Rounding out the band are bass man Roger Bush, banjo and electric guitar player Alan Munde, guitarist Kenny Wertz, drummer Eric Dalton and Don Beck on pedal steel and mandolin. The lineup is known as "The Flying Burrito Brothers #7" and they are as hot as a Dutch oven for this Amsterdam show that begins with an abbreviated take on, appropriately enough for a traveling band, the Dave Dudley associated "Six Days on the Road." The very generous program found on this 2-CD set includes lots of favorites including the weepy Roberts-penned "Four Days of Rain," the classic pedal steel rave-up that is "My Uncle," written by former members Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, great traditional bluegrass tunes like "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms" which is a showcase for Munde's banjo picking, and takes on the great Merle Haggard chestnuts "Sing Me Back Home" and the harmony-laden "White Line Fever." Other standout tracks include the Rolling Stones hit "Wild Horses" which the band released their version of a year before the Stones did; the George Jones favorite "She Thinks I Still Care" where Roberts chuckles after he introduces the song; Hank Thompson's '50s hit "The Wild Side of Life;" a bluegrass mini-set that includes "Reuben's Train," "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" (powered by three banjos) and "Dixie Breakdown;" Roberts' own plaintive "Colorado" and two more Parsons/Hillman co-writes in "Sin City" and the pedal steel-rocking "Christine's Tune" with its famed lyric "She's the devil in disguise." The 24-song set ends in a frenzy with takes on Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven" and a full-length version of "Six Days on the Road." Five bonus tracks are appended after the concert including the clicking bluegrass of "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down," "Uncle Penn" and the ever popular "Orange Blossom Special." The vintage show is a great reminder of how the Flying Burrito Brothers were, with their love of bluegrass and classic country as well as stellar original material, in the vanguard of what would become the Americana movement.

The Burrito Brothers - Together

This effort by, if you will, scions of the Flying Burrito Brothers, has been called "the closest to the Flying Burrito Brothers original sound of all the previous bands" by Will James of Gram Parsons International, adding that "Gram Parsons said it best; the idea will keep going on, whether I do it or anybody else does it." And indeed the spirit of long ago is alive here in the newly-recorded Together. The band is a foursome here helmed by singer and keys man Chris P. James, the now-deceased Bob Hatter on guitars and vocals, pedal steel man and multi-instrumentalist Tony Paoletta and drummer Peter Young. And speaking of Parsons, a highlight here is "Mr. Customs Man," a previously unreleased and unfinished Parsons song that James and Hatter finished. The song has a very similar theme to Arlo Guthrie's paranoid smuggler's lament "Coming Into Los Angeles," the difference being that Guthrie's lawbreaker admits that he's "bringing in a couple of keys" (kilos, of marijuana) and the song leaves the result of that unresolved while the Burrito Brothers cut has the smuggler swearing throughout the song that he's not carrying but he ends up being hauled off at song's end. Title cut "Together" is a slow and ethereal number penned by James that is a perfect example of what Parsons called "cosmic American;" with its flower power-era vibe the song not only recalls early Flying Burrito Brothers but also bands like the Grateful Dead. "Blood on His Hands" was written by all four band members and is a classic country cut reminiscent of the writing of stars like George Jones; it has a catchy chorus to go with its laid back melody and would fit nicely on any playlist that favors '60s and '70s traditional country music. The album ends with the seven-part "History Suite" that begins with a sublime country rock groove in "Rhapsody" but then moves into an appropriately-titled bit of weirdness called "Abstract Collage;" the suite also includes the rollicking country rock of "Keep on Movin'" which is a slam on music critics that are too critical, and the pop-ish adoration that features in the subtle earworm "I Just Love My Baby." Sadly with Hatter having passed the Burritos will have to evolve once again but that's something that's been accomplished many times over the decades.

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