THE FLYING BURRITO BROS The Gilded Palace Of Sin (4 Men With Beards)

“The 1969 debut from Gram Parsons’ massively influential country-rock outfit”, crows the cover sticker, rather underestimating the worth of this marvellous album on two counts. Firstly, the contributions of Parsons’ fellow Burritos (ex-Byrds Chris Hillman and Sneeky Pete and fellow ex-International Submarine Band member Chris Ethridge) shouldn’t be fellow ignored, and secondly to call the Burritos a country-rock outfit diminishes the way their music was also marinated in gospel, soul and rhythm and blues.

But yes, “massively influential” I wouldn’t quarrel with. From “The Gilded Palace Of Sin” you could trace a line through the Eagles and on to Fleetwood Mac’s mid-70s soft-rock resurgence, or out to the burgeoning Americana/ scene, depending on which direction you turned. And, as the first great flowering of Parsons’ vision of a “cosmic American music”, you could also link it with every band of modern-day psychedelicists who’ve embraced the concept, from the mighty Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips downwards.

It’s the sound and the songs that make “The Gilded Palace Of Sin” so important. The former is encapsulated whenever the band lay a scorching fuzz guitar solo against a mirrored sweep of pedal steel, “Christine’s Tune” and “Wheels” being two of the more prominent examples. The latter…well, I think I’m correct in claiming that “The Gilded Palace Of Sin” boasts more Parsons writing credits than any of his other five studio sets, a songbook that would surely have become legendary irrespective of what confluence of genres he chose to perform it in. He hits an absolute peak on “Hot Burrito #1”, exquisitely bittersweet like a dagger in the heart, but the foreshadowing of his own tragically premature demise that haunts “Sin City” and “Juanita” is retrospectively chilling. Also of great import are the Dan Penn covers “Dark End Of The Street” and “Do Right Woman”. Previously associated with Percy Sledge and Aretha Franklin, they might’ve seemed like alien territory for a bunch of hedonistic white boys playing country music too loudly, but the Burritos make them, as with almost everything else here, seem like a perfect fit.

There are moments where “The Gilded Palace Of Sin” shows its age – well, it’s probably allowed to, given that it’s 40 next year. The somewhat harsh sonics and extreme left/right panning of the vocalists date it, neither problem ameliorated by this new 180 gram vinyl reissue. The closing narrative, “Hippie Boy”, with its glancing reference to the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention riots, is also very much of its time. Otherwise, though, this is a still-underappreciated marvel of an album that fans of everyone from the aforementioned Eagles to the aforementioned Mercury Rev owe it to themselves to hear.

The Byrds

The International Submarine Band

Gram Parsons