The (Flying) Burrito Brothers were one of the first and, as it turned out, most enduring country-rock bands of the hippie era. Originally founded as a collaboration between Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, it survived both their departures, and has served as a berth for countless shaggy twangsters over the years -- guys from the Eagles, the Byrds, and numerous other bands, including roots music luminaries such as Chris Ethridge, Gene Parsons, Bernie Leadon, Rick Roberts, Gib Guilbeau, pedal steelers Sneaky Pete Kleinow and Al Perkins, ex-Byrds drummer Michael Clarke, and many others. At some point they came back down to earth and dropped the "flying" from their name, becoming just the plain old Burrito Brothers, and another spinoff group, Burrito Deluxe, was formed in the 21st Century. Here's a quick look at a long and twisted pathway...
The Flying Burrito Brothers "Close Up The Honky-Tonks" (A&M, 1972) (LP)
A fab 2-LP elegy to the original Burritos ensemble... The first disc is a strong best-of: Side A is from the first album, Side B is from the second. The second is all unreleased stuff, including several of their best country covers, as well as a bunch of iffy '50s rock tunes like "Bony Maronie," etc. Even with the lame, tacked-on stuff, though, this is one of the best Burritos packages ever.
Gram Parsons & The Flying Burrito Brothers "Sleepless Nights" (A&M, 1976)
A posthumously released odds'n'ends look back at the Gram-era Burritos. The album draws heavily on the same unreleased 1970 sessions that made up half of Close Up The Honky-Tonks, except this time around they cherry-picked out the best country stuff. Several awesome songs, like Merle's "Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down" and Buck Owens' "Together Again" had inexplicably been left off that collection, but here -- paired up with several Gram/Emmylou duets from '73 -- they finally make a convincing case for Gram Parsons as a kickass country singer. When he left to form his own group (again), the Burritos continued on without him and have survived, in various incarnations, to the present day.
The Flying Burrito Brothers "Farther Along: The Best Of The Flying Burrito Brothers" (A&M, 1988)
Also highly recommended. Has most of the best Parsons-era Burritos songs on it (with only a couple of lamentable omissions). And, while it's nice they stuck to the good stuff, it's unfortunate that couldn't have also included "Four Days of Rain," one of the notable gems of the post-Gram years. If you're looking for one disc to show you what the fuss was about, this oughta do it.
The Flying Burrito Brothers "Out Of The Blue" (A&M/Universal, 1996)
A 2-CD set...
Flying Burrito Brothers "Hot Burritos! Anthology: 1969-1972" (A&M/Universal, 2000)
Woof! This is a truly definitive collection, and essential for anyone who's new to the whole Gram Parsons phenomenon, or for oldtimers who just want to have all this material in one place. Two CDs, 43 tracks, all the material from the first three Burritos albums, and a well-selected sampling of the odds and ends released after the Gram's departure. It even includes one of the few worthy tracks in the immediate post-Gram years, "Four Days of Rain," which is fluffy, but catchy, and a longtime favorite of mine... Records like this give us all a chance to breathe a sigh of relief in the face of the massive recent corporate mergers in the music industry: even though A&M got swallowed up into the maw of Seagram's Universal conglomerate, there's still someone out there in the belly of the beast who was on the ball enough to do this one up right. As fab a summary of the Burritos sound as could reasonably be asked for, with all the blemishes and moments of magic.
Flying Burrito Brothers "Millennium Collection" (MCA/Universal, 2001)
Huh? What is the point of this skimpy little 12-song best-of when the fabulous Hot Burritos set already came out the year before? Well, I guess if you want to check these guys out on the cheap, this has its appeal. But it's a stingy offering considering how easily the label could have -- and already had -- done a better job.
Flying Burrito Brothers "The Very Best Of" (A&M/Universal, 2002)
Actually less a "best-of" than a more or less straight reissue of the Guilded Palace Of Sin and Burrito Deluxe albums (reviewed above). A few extra tracks round out this collection; as a retrospective, this seems kind of superfluous, considering the high calibre of the Hot Burritos! anthology, which came out just a couple of years earlier. But for anyone who wants to hear all the material on the band's first two albums, this is a welcome find.
The Flying Burrito Brothers "Flying Again/Airborne" (T-Bird, 2010)
The Flying Burrito Brothers "Flying Burrito Bros/Last Of The Red Hot Burritos" (Raven, 2008)
The Flying Burrito Brothers "Gilded Palace Of Sin" (A&M, 1969)
Forget 'em! Who needs the Byrds anyway? This record has all the big hits of the Gram-era Burritos -- most of them, at any rate. "Wheels," "Sin City," "Hot Burrito #2," the jovial misogyny of "Christine's Tune" and Gram plugging away on a couple of Dan Penn's Muscle Shoals R&B anthems. Naw, he didn't have the greatest voice, but somehow he makes it all work. Uneven, but a classic.
The Flying Burrito Brothers "Burrito Deluxe" (A&M, 1970)
An uneven record, made while tensions peaked between Parsons and the rest of the band. However, this version of the Rolling Stones song, "Wild Horses" was one of the highlights of Gram's career.
Flying Burrito Brothers "The Flying Burrito Bros" (1971)
Flying Burrito Brothers "Last Of The Red Hot Burritos" (1972)
Flying Burrito Brothers "Flying Again" (Columbia, 1975)
Flying Burrito Brothers "Sin City" (1976)
Flying Burrito Brothers "Airborne" (Columbia, 1976)
Flying Burrito Brothers "From Another Time" (1976)
Flying Burrito Brothers "Close Encounters To The West Coast" (1978)
Flying Burrito Brothers "Live From Tokyo" (Sundown, 1979)
The Burrito Brothers "Hearts On The Line" (Curb, 1981) (LP)
(Produced by Michael Lloyd)
This was the first Burritos album to feature John Beland, Gib Guilbeau's songwriting partner and onetime bandmate from the group Swampwater...
The Burrito Brothers "Sunset Sundown" (Columbia, 1982) (LP)
Flying Burrito Brothers "Hollywood Nights: 1979-82" (Sundown, 1983)
Flying Burrito Brothers "Cabin Fever" (Relix, 1985)
Flying Burrito Brothers "Live From Europe" (Relix, 1986)
Flying Burrito Brothers "Live In Amsterdam: 1985" (Relix, 1997)
Flying Burrito Brothers "Eye Of A Hurricane" (1994)
Flying Burrito Brothers "California Jukebox" (1997)
Flying Burrito Brothers "Honky Tonkin' (aka Sons Of The Golden West)" (Arista, 1999)
The Burrito Brothers "Back To The Sweethearts Of The Rodeo" (2000)
A 2-CD set of live material recorded live in the late '80s...
Flying Burrito Brothers "Gram Parsons Archives Vol.1 -- Live At The Avalon Ballroom: 1969" (Amoeba, 2007)
The Flying Burrito Brothers "Authorized Bootleg: Fillmore East Late Show" (Hip-O Select, 2011)
Bereft of frontman Gram Parsons and pedal steel player Sneaky Pete, this late-1970 edition of the Burrito featured country-rockers Bernie Leadon and Rick Roberts (later members of Eagles and Firefall) with founding member Chris Hillman on bass, playing live at New York's fabled Fillmore East. A nice slice of country-rock's formative years... worth checking out if you're a fan of the band, or a fan of the style.
Burrito Deluxe "The Whole Enchilada" (Luna Chica, 2004)
Generally speaking, I try and avoid commenting on all these latter-day Burrito Brothers releases: they aren't bad, but they're seldom exciting. This one features Garth Hudson (of The Band) as a guest bandmember; singer Carlton Moody offers a friendly, if underwhelming, vocal presence. The songs themselves are adequate -- nothing really leaps out at you, but nothing sounds terrible, either. Like I say, there's not that much spark to their performances, but there certainly is a lot of history, and a sincere appreciation for where the music comes from.
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