Hillman and McGuinn play at Byrds tribute gig

Have a good weekend dear reader – we leave you today with news of Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman who on Wednesday night re-united at downtown L.A.’s vintage, cathedral-like Ace Hotel Theatre. Billboard report: “The night’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo 50th anniversary album tribute offered such a steady stream of—mostly quite intriguing—curatorial observations that some attendees may have wondered if they had happened upon a “So You Want to Be A Rock and Roll Star” Ted talk that, happily, kept threatening to break out as a concert extravaganza of guitar-drunk Americana. 

Fluently played and sung, boasting bold multi-part harmonizing that may have been the most passionately-delivered ingredient of the show, the affair unfolded with warmth, geniality and a good sampling of (for those around during the first incarnation) intoxicating memories.

The subject 1968 album is such a landmark—inflected with gentle irony that did not undercut its makers’ obvious love for pure country in the Grand Ole Opry style—that it probably should have had a tribute every ten years since its release. In great part the product of a chance meeting between the Byrds’ Chris Hillman and southern-boy-by-way-of-Harvard legend Gram Parsons— “a preppie…and a folkie” as Roger McGuinn would later describe him—it was a sincere effort that initially was shunted to the side, even by many loyal Byrds fans. This correspondent knows because I was one such. Even though I had the first three Byrds albums when I had only about 20 LP’s (Otis Redding’s Complete and Unbelievable fraying in the stack along with mostly British Invasion fare), I’d figured Sweetheart must be mere novelty. When a friend played “The Christian Life” one day, even as we snickered at the lyrics: “I won’t lose a friend by heeding God’s call/For what is a friend who’d want you to fall?”

Yet underneath, as we heard in McGuinn’s vocal, there rose a palpable love for the original’s sincerity. It found its own loping beat, by contrast to the stately Louvin brothers plaint, which lifted off their Satan Is Real LP thanks to their adventurous harmonies and virtuoso mandolin playing by brother Ira (who in a sad reversal became a wastrel).

In fact, the entire Sweetheart album is shot through with filaments of fundamentalist religion, notably the trad “I Am A Pilgrim”. (Which is followed on Sweetheart by William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” a song which Bell sang for a rapt President Obama at a White House Memphis soul celebration, and which McGuinn fascinatingly pointed out was about missing not a lover, but Bell’s Tennessee home).

Read the rest of the review over at Billboard here.  Have a good one!


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Author: Mark Whitfield

Mark Whitfield has been the Editor of Americana UK for the last 17 years and still feels like this is his pretend job, mainly because it is.

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