It’s sometimes difficult to imagine that now-familiar delicious combinations remained unknowable as recently as a few decades ago. In the early 60s, the amalgamation of traditional country music and rock n’ roll represented a bridge too far. Hippies playing pedal-steel guitars seemed as unlikely as hearing Marshall stacks playing in the Vatican. Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, and Roger McGuinn deserve the lion’s share of credit for busting such taboos on the Byrds’ 1968 landmark Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
Parsons and Hillman’s subsequent co-founding of the Flying Burrito Brothers pushed those boundaries even further a year later on The Gilded Palace of Sin, a charmingly eccentric collection of high-and-lonesome harmonies, western twang, and steady backbeats. While the songwriting isn’t quite up to the heights achieved on Sweetheart of the Rodeo, The Gilded Palace of Sin feels more innovative and progressive. From “Sneeky Pete” Kleinow’s psychedelic pedal-steel work to its irreverent tone and lyricism, the record rings true to Parsons’ “cosmic American music” billing.
Given the band members’ appetite for illicit drugs—Parsons’ famous Nudie suit was emblazoned with sequenced images of red poppies, marijuana leaves, and Seconal tablets—it’s no wonder the album always sounded a little off-kilter. No longer. For Intervention Records’ reissue, engineer Kevin Gray used the half-inch safety copy of the analog master tape to clear away the haze and fog. Unlike some efforts to refurbish a recording, this version avoids any anti-septic sonics. Drop your needle on “Sin City” and be prepared to smell wafting aromas of sinsemilla, mesquite, and sage brush as you’re transported to the rugged backroads outside of Joshua Tree. While Gray couldn’t address the strange decision to occasionally pan Parsons and Hillman’s vocals hard right and left, their harmonies are now three-dimensional. Hillman’s under-appreciated and melodic bass lines also feel more present, making every track an addictive pleasure.
Intervention’s sumptuous tip-on artwork makes Barry Feinstein’s tongue-in-cheek cover photograph even more vivid. You can’t appreciate the full measure of The Gilded Palace of Sin until you hear this quiet, ruler-flat pressing.
*VinylReviews.com is owned and operated by Intervention Records’ Founder Shane Buettner.
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