Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Byrds - Sweetheart of the Rodeo

The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo
Columbia, 1968
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Price: $4

One of the things I really miss about Lawrence is not getting to listen to KJHK. Not to say that I always enjoyed what KJHK was playing, but upon getting in my car the very first thing I did after turning on the engine was flip to 90.7 and see what was on. Sometimes you catch the middle of one of your favorite songs and establish a sort of trust with the on-air DJ and choose them as your guide for your errands. Sometimes you can tell it’s some twerp with their macbook hooked up to the input because the sound quality is all off, it’s playing some skronky laptop electronica, and you can hear that sound iTunes makes when it’s done ripping a CD (that sounds like I’m being hyperbolic but no lie, I’ve heard that happen on more than one occasion). Over the last couple years, I always seemed to be in transit whenever Vince Meserko was DJing, which was really convenient because he is one of my favorite DJs that station has produced (and in my head, Vince, Nick Dormer, Nick Spacek, and Sean Galloway are KJHK’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse…Rockpocalypse? Arockalypse?). Not only were his rotation shows gold, but he did a blues show called Juke House that was fantastic too. Currently he hosts a show called Hickory Wind that is his masterpiece that broadcasts on Monday nights from 8-10 PM. It just seemed like every single time I got in the car for an extended period of time, that show was on the radio. I’d be driving on and town, getting in and out of the car, doing errand stuff and I’d return to find Hickory Wind in the middle of some excellent folk/country/Americana gem.

The point is, I feel like that radio show really revived my nascent love for Americana. I went on a huge alt-country kick when I started college in 2004 that culminated with a year-plus long obsession with Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and never really ended. It waned, for sure, but my love of quality down to earth songwriting and an errant fiddle is as much a part of me as my love for homemade pizza and my dog. And yet, as much as I read about Sweetheart of the Rodeo, I think I’d listened to it once or twice. Gram Parsons was just a name. And then I heard “Return of the Grievous Angel” and something came alive inside of me. Something built in me long before I ever started appreciating music on my own. It was the Merle Haggard and Patsy Cline played so frequently during my childhood and the distrust of anyone who responded to “Anything but country” when asked what kind of music they liked. Because seriously, what kind of bullshit is that? That’s worse than “A little bit of everything” in terms of being non-committal for the sake of trying to be as agreeable as possible. That’s a down right shame because despite pop country being the nadir of modern music, there is still plenty of twangy shit to get down on.

And Sweetheart of the Rodeo has something to do with that. The story of this record is way too long to get into here, but the mythical quality of it was something that I always really truly enjoyed. A psych-tinged jangle pop band best known for their covers of Bob Dylan songs hooking up with an impossibly young rich, druggy genius and basically creating country rock, alt-country, and modern Americana. It’s a brilliant display of fusion. And sure the recording process was a disaster (as you’d expect) and Parsons was booted from the band before the thing was even finished, but the final product is just so great. A blend of country classics, traditionals, a couple of Parsons-penned originals (including the just plain outstanding “Hickory Wind,” which the wife even said “Ooo, I know this one”) and the just sublimely inspired Bob Dylan penned closing track “Nothing was Delivered” that serves as a culmination of every track that came before it and validates this whole weird experiment as something incredibly important. I feel bad that I don’t really know much of the Byrds or their discography, but using this as an endpoint (as Sweetheart is commonly known as their last great album) I would love to trace their lineage.

No comments:

Post a Comment