[Review] The Flying Burrito Bros (1971)

After parting with Parsons, the Burritos recruit Rick Roberts and release a fine album of mellow rock with Byrdsian overtones.

Kronomyth 3.0: The missing parsons report.

Gram Parsons’ erratic behavior had become a liability, so The Flying Burrito Bros. parted ways with Parsons and recruited 22-year-old singer/songwriter Rick Roberts as his replacement. Roberts’ presence is immediately felt in the material, which straddles the country-rock of the past and the mellow rock that Roberts would explore further in Firefall. In fact, I’d say this album has as much to do with The Byrds, Grateful Dead, Poco, Bob Dylan and The Beatles as country music.

If this were Poco we were talking about, I’d tell you that this is one of my favorite albums from them. But there’s a certain amount of guilt in admitting that I like the band better without Gram Parsons, as if he were the problem. The real reason I enjoy this album isn’t the absence of Parsons, of course, but the addition of Roberts. He has a nice clear voice reminiscent of Richie Furay and is a surprisingly consistent source of good songs, more than making up for Parsons’ absence.

In addition to the originals from Roberts and Chris Hillman, the band chooses its covers wisely: Merle Haggard’s White Line Fever (released as the album’s single), Gene Clark’s Tried So Hard and Bob Dylan’s To Ramona. Far from filler, those songs are three of the best tracks on the album. Not that there’s a bad track on here; Can’t You Hear Me Calling is the closest thing to filler on the album, and it’s still a pretty good country-rock song.

Ordinarily, I would blame my misplaced enthusiasm for this album on a skewed appreciation of country-rock, but Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs rarely wastes its time on anything less than the avowed classics (although the label did release an original master of Joe Walsh’s Barnstorm shortly after, so maybe they were going through a phase or something). There is a lot of great guitar interplay on this album (e.g., All Alone), and I’m sure it sounds even better on the original master. Sneaky Pete Kleinow and Bernie Leadon both seem to come up in the mix since their last album, which was one of my few gripes with Burrito Deluxe.

Again, you probably want to start with the first two Burrito albums simply because of the Parsons connection, but I’d definitely stick around for this album too. It’s a honeyfied, countrified rock album that will appeal to fans of Poco, The Byrds and, naturally, The Flying Burrito Brothers. Your next stop, however, should probably by Roberts’ solo album, the unfortunately titled Windmills.

Original elpee version

A1. White Line Fever (Merle Haggard) (3:15)
A2. Colorado (Rick Roberts) (4:50)
A3. Hand to Mouth (Rick Roberts/Chris Hillman) (3:43)
A4. Tried So Hard (Gene Clark) (3:08)
A5. Just Can’t Be (Rick Roberts/Chris Hillman) (4:58)
B1. To Ramona (Bob Dylan) (3:37)
B2. Four Days of Rain (Rick Roberts) (3:38)
B3. Can’t You Hear Me Calling (Rick Roberts/Chris Hillman) (2:21)
B4. All Alone (Rick Roberts/Chris Hillman) (3:32)
B5. Why Are You Crying (Rick Roberts) (3:04)

The Players

Mike Clarke (drums), Chris Hillman (bass/vocals), Pete Kleinow (pedal steel guitar), Bernie Leadon (lead electric and acoustic guitar, banjo, vocals), Rick Roberts (rhythm guitar, vocals) with Earl Ball (piano on A1/A3), Mike Deazy (guitar on B1), Bob Gibson (acoustic twelve string on A3). Produced by Jim Dickson and Bob Hughes; engineered by Bob Hughes and Lillian Douma.

The Pictures

Art direction by Roland Young. Design by Chuck Beeson. Photography by Jim McCrary (front cover) and Al Kramer (back cover).

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette in June 1971* in the US (A&M, SP-4295), the UK (A&M, AMLS/ZCAM 64295), Italy (A&M, ORL 8073) and the Netherlands (A&M, 85559 IT). Reached #176 on the US charts. (*First appeared in 6/5/71 issue of Billboard.)

  1. Re-released on remastered compact disc in the US (Mobile Fidelity, MFCD 772).

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