I'm your toy....
Released in February 1969
Running time 37.64
The "country rock" genre was ushered into fashion, amongst others, by Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding and The Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo in 1968 and continued in May 1969 by Crosby, Stills and Nash. In February 1968, and comparatively unnoticed, was this album by ex-Sweetheart Of The Rodeo era Byrds member Gram Parsons' new group, The Flying Burrito Brothers. It is my favourite of that bunch of albums and has a subtle, warm-sounding ambience about it that I find most appealing. I have always had a bit of a weakness for The Rolling Stones' country-influence material (like Far Away Eyes) and Elvis Costello's Almost Blue. There is plenty of obvious influence on this album regarding both of those, including one actual song (Hot Burrito #1/I'm Your Toy) that Costello covered on that album.
It didn't sell well at the time, yet retrospectively it has gained considerable critical kudos and, as I said above, it has had a fair old influence. Bob Dylan, incidentally, said "boy I love them - their first record really knocked me out..." So there you go.
1. Christine's Tune
2. Sin City
3. Do Right Woman
4. Dark End Of The Street
5. My Uncle
8. Hot Burrito #1
9. Hot Burrito #2
10. Do You Know How It Feels
11. Hippie Boy
Christine's Tune has an early Beatles feel about it, you know, the sort of tune Ringo would have loved doing. It it carried out of its sixties feel, however, by some excellent fuzzy, buzzy rock guitar from Chris Hillman. Chris Ethridge's bass is superb on this and throughout the album - nice and full and "rubbery".
Sin City is a twangy, mournful but melodic piece of country. Elvis Costello no doubt loved this and it also really reminds me of The Stones' Far Away Eyes in its vocal refrain. I am sure Parsons' vocal was the country tone that Jagger tried to imitate.
Oddly, up next is a cover of Aretha Franklin's Atlantic soul classic Do Right Woman given a slow country makeover and with no gender-changes made to the lyrics. Listened to as a country song it is appealing, but compared to the original it doesn't quite stack up. Check out that lovely, sumptuous bass line, though. Another cover is of James Carr's Dark End Of The Street. This one is the better of the two covers, with Parsons delivering a sensitive vocal over a stately piano, bass guitar and drums backing.
My Uncle is a finger-picking, lively number that hides a more sombre message about getting a letter from the military draft board ("Uncle Sam"). Parsons says he's off to Vancouver. I don't blame him.
Wheels is a fetching, slow country ballad enhanced by more of that buzzy guitar. "Juanita" is another one that really reminds me of The Stones. I could really imagine Mick Jagger singing this. It could have come off Beggars' Banquet.
Hot Burrito #1/I'm Your Toy was covered very nicely by Elvis Costello on Almost Blue as I'm Your Toy, but this original is sublime, with an emotional vocal, great guitar and more of that peerless bass. It is the best track on the album, for me. Also impressive are the rockier tones of Hot Burrito #2 which has slight hints of Argent's Hold Your Head Up in its riff (maybe Rod Argent had been listening to this). It is the album's most "rock" number and again features that very early seventies buzzy guitar, like The Carpenters used on Goodbye To Love.
Do You Know How It Feels returns to the steel guitar and melodic piano of more traditional country. Hippie Boy is narrated by Chris Hillman, the words spoken over a slow country melody and describes counter-culture drug-dealing experiences going wrong (as far as I can make out). Apparently it is about the 1968 Chicago riots but I struggle to get that from the lyrics, but if they said it was, then it was.
Overall, I much prefer this to Sweetheart Of the Rodeo, for example, and to Dylan's Nashville Skyline too. It is one of the best examples of late sixties/early seventies country rock.