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The Flying Burrito Brothers - Sin City: The Very Best of The Flying Burrito Brothers

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Artist: The Flying Burrito Brothers

Album: Sin City: The Very Best of The Flying Burrito Brothers

Label: A&M

Review date: Aug. 26, 2002

A Hot, Lean Burrito

It’s difficult to think of a rock band that’s had their small amount of material repackaged and anthologized more times than the Flying Burrito Brothers. For a band that released four proper albums (I’m not including the Pete Kleinow / Chris Ethridge post-1975 version of the band in this consideration simply because, like Doug Yule’s shameless “Velvet Underground” record Squeeze, they didn’t know better than to come up with a new name for themselves) five greatest-hits compilations seems a bit excessive. It should have stopped at four because that record, 2000’s affordable double disc Hot Burritos! The Flying Burrito Brothers Anthology: 1969-1972 on A&M doesn’t overlook much of anything. By contrast, the newest collection, Sin City, introduces itself as “The Very Best of the Flying Burrito Brothers” but with a band this great, why limit oneself to “very”?

Sin City includes the entirety of 1969’s The Gilded Palace of Sin and 1970’s lesser Burrito Deluxe (the two records cut by the band before Gram Parsons departure) and for that reason it does effectively suffice as a “very best of” collection. What’s perhaps most impressive about Gilded Palace, an 11 song record that has very rightfully been acknowledged as “the definitive country-rock album” by many critics, is what it managed to sneak in around the edges of both “country” and “rock” – in essence, the glue that enabled the two parts to stick. Listen in “Devil in Disguise” to the way that Kleinow’s guitar lifts into acid-dipped psychedelic fuzz-tone before dropping effortlessly back into warbling country steel , or the soulful Motown harmony between Parsons and the underappreciated Chris Hillman in the Aretha Franklin classic “Do Right Woman”, and even the previously unprecedented “country-rock” tag begins to feel like pigeonholing. And there’s a post-modern sensibility to the earliest incarnation of the Burrito Brothers that’s present to play with or to ignore – the reason why the classic “Sin City” feels like a natural cover for both the earnest Uncle Tupelo and the tongue-in-cheek, master-of-disguises Beck. The cosmic-hippie-goes-Nashville costumes, the cultivation of musical surfaces; it’s all somehow simultaneously infused with real soul, though a soul that feels refreshingly youthful in comparison to country music’s rigid standard.

Sin City generously bridges the two albums it collects with “The Train Song” (also available on Hot Burritos!), a venerable mix-tape staple originally released as a single by the band. A bouncy number that changes tempo and key without abandoning an infectious groove, it’s a rarity that’s become less of a difficult acquisition with all of A&M’s anthologizing.

Burrito Deluxe is quite good, but pales in comparison to Gilded Palace. Some of the songs on the Parsons-absent 1971 self-titled record (all included on Hot Burritos! but not Sin City) are actually better than others on Burrito Deluxe. That’s not to say there aren’t greats - “Cody, Cody” nicely weaves wistful melancholy through a countrified summer-of-love pop tune, and “Wild Horses” (released before the Stones’ version) is one of Parsons’ most wearily beautiful vocal performances, but the self-titled record’s excellent Gene Clark-penned performances (“Tried So Hard” and “Here Tonight”), soulful Rick Roberts’ ballad “Colorado”, and the yearning bluegrass opening of “Why Are You Crying?” are good reasons to go for Hot Burritos! instead (it’s got Burrito Deluxe and more).

Sin City also happily tacks on two excellent non-album Parsons cuts, “Six Days on the Road” and “Close Up The Honky-Tonks” (one of the rarities on the 1974 Close Up The Honky-Tonks record – A&M’s first attempt at a “Best of” and rarities wrap-up). Perhaps it would be more cogent as a collection if it had extended its reach to include all of the Flying Burrito Brothers material recorded when Parsons was a member, but it falls short of this aim by only including two of the Close Up The Honky-Tonks rarities. By forgoing the exquisite Merle Haggard jailhouse ballad “Sing Me Back Home” (Edith Frost’s version on Bloodshot’s The Executioners Last Song compilation might actually, somehow, be better), a decent BeeGees cover (both of which can be found on Hot Burritos! – are you sensing a pattern here?), “Bony Maronie”, and “Break My Mind”, it loses its chance to be a complete document of Parsons contribution to the band, and thus loses a bit of its justification for existing in the shadow of the sprawling Hot Burritos!.

Unless you’re picky enough to demand all your music on one disc, I can find no reason to purchase this collection while Hot Burritos! is still in print. Besides for the points mentioned, both collections feature the same 24-bit remastering, and the Sin City liners actually quote from the Hot Burritos! ones (!) Still, if issuing Sin City is enough of an impetus to remind people of this music’s existence than I can’t fault A&M. Whichever collection you decide on, you ought to decide on one.

By Nathan Hogan

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