An essential buy for anyone claiming to be a Burritos fan
Stephen E. Andrews | Somerset United Kingdom | 06/15/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I'm afraid a bit of history is necessary here, so dig in and bear with me:
I bought this album on CD back in the late eighties under its other title of 'Live From Tokyo'. I had just discovered The Flying Burrito Brothers, a kind older friend introducing me to their music. At that time in the UK, Gram Parsons was an extremely minor cult figure and it was very difficult to get hold of any recordings by GP solo or the FBB. A couple of years later, Parsons became the dead darling of the music press in Britain and it became very fashionable to get into his stuff. I was happy about this as I thought the first FBB album 'Gilded Palace of Sin' was a masterpiece and I also loved The Byrds' classic 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo'. Gram's solo albums were also great.
However, what I disliked then and have grown to despise now is the knee-jerk manner in which critics and so-called fans so readily dismiss later versions of the band, following the party line that a Burritos without Gram was valueless.
Well, the truth is that after 'Gilded', The FBB made a generally dreadful album entitled 'Burrito Deluxe', which despite odd moments of genius sounded muddy and uninspired compared to the debut. After the self-indulgent, drunken and drug-ridden rich kid Parsons left the FBB (read the biographies and you'll see he wasn't all genius but his own worse enemy), the band installed unknown singer-guitarist Rick Roberts in his place and recorded their third eponymous album, a record that is now virtually forgotten, but one that is easily better than 'Burrito Deluxe'.
A worthy but not-front-rank bluegrass-flavoured live album 'The Last of the Red Hot Burritos' followed and soon afterwards the FBB folded, Chris Hillman joining Manassas, while Roberts and ex-Byrd Michael Clarke formed Firefall.
A few years later Sneaky Pete and Chris Ethridge reformed the FBB with Gib Guilbeau (ex-Nashville West), Joel Scott Hill (ex-Canned Heat) and Gene Parsons (also ex-Nashville West and The Byrds). They cut the massively underrated 'Flying Again', which the critics slammed for being an inauthentic cash in - but if anything, the country credentials of Gene Parsons, Gib Guilbeau and the two Burritos matched anything Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons and Bernie Leadon could lay claim to: all of these guys had been playing country music since they were kids, often with each other. There was even a prototype Burritos made up of Gram, Hillman, Clarence White and Gene Parsons - who recorded four tracks which remain unreleased - while Gram and Chris were still in The Byrds. 'Flying Again' was the best Burritos album since 'Gilded Palace', having some of the tonal richness, soulful singing and varied repertoire that 'Deluxe' and the third album lacked.
Sadly, the man who acted as a catalyst in creating the best Burrito albums - the underrated Chris Ethridge - left the Burritos after 'Flying Again' to be replaced by Skip Battin. Battin is the only musician to have been a member of The Byrds, The Burritos and The New Riders of the Purple Sage. Despite this pedigree and his skill as a bassist, all three of these bands suffered when Skip joined, largely due to his dreaful songwriting contributions (normally collaborations with Kim Fowley). Although Skip contributed no songs to 'Airborne', the fifth and final Burritos album, much of the material by hands outside the band was ill-chosen and despite some fine moments, the record was almost as big a disappointment to me as 'Burrito Deluxe'.
'Close Encounters to the West Coast' features the post-'Airborne' lineup of Gilbeau, Battin, Kleinow, new boy Greg harris (who replaced the wonderful Joel Scott Hill) and Ed Ponder (whom I believe took over from Gene Parsons on drums for the tour this album originates from due to the latter injuring his hand).
The album opens with the definitive version of 'Big Bayou' (from 'Aiborne' -there is a third version Gib recorded in his time with the Dillards) which is full of Sneaky Pete's amazing treated pedal steel. For me this sound has always been the essence of the FBB, more important even than Gram Parson's originating presence. On this cut Kleinow is simply astonishing, conjouring psychedlic sounds of out his instrument that could only be duplicated otherwise by using about three analogue synthesizers simultaneously. This is real country ROCK, with emphasis on the latter oin the music and the former in the lyrics.
A superb version (and hit single) of 'White Line Fever' follows - this is the finest trucking song i;ve ever heard, penned by the superb Merle Haggard and surpassing the Chris Hillman vocal on the version from the third album. Other highlights include a craking 'Dim lights, Thick Smoke', a live version of 'Hot Burrito #2' that surpasses the one on 'Last of the Red Hot Burritos' and a gorgeous take on 'Colorado' which again outclasses the one from that eponymous third album. 'Six days on the Road' is much better here than the version with Gram singing, as it has a lot more balls. and 'Truck Drivin Man' is great fun.
Less interesting (hence the four stars) but still worth hearing are the bluegrassy numbers 'Rocky Top' and 'Rollin in my sweet baby's arms'.
So overall, I'm claiming that some of the songs here are the best versions recorded and released - remember that when I bought this album, I'd only heard 'Gilded Palace' and not been influenced by other fans and critics. For me, this is the third best Burrito album, preceded only by 'Gilded' and 'Flying Again'. Ignore the critics, put the CD on and turn up the volume. Do the same with 'Burrito Deluxe' and be honest with yourself - Gram and the boys screwed that one up.
Finally, I'll add that after this album, there are no essential Burrito CDs, so don't get carried away buying other live albums by later, inferior lineups.
One of the best live Burrito cd's
Burritoman "USA" | Pennsylvania | 12/11/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Originally issued by Regency in June of 1979 titled "Live In Tokyo", this outstanding concert cd is pivotal in the history of The Flying Burrito Brothers. The lineup is, as always, top notch: Sneeky on steel, Gib Guilbeau on fiddle and vocals, Skip Battin on bass and vocals and Ed Ponder on drums. They are obviously having a great time, and they perform flawlessly several Burrito staples and hardcore country standards with ease. The album is most notable, however, for it spawning the single 'White Line Fever' which was the first-ever Burrito recording to have chart impact. (This version of 'White Line Fever' is the best one released so far). Essential? No, only one live Burrito cd is absolutely essential, 1990's "Encore- Live In Europe". But it is a great cd and more than worthy of being added to your collection."
Not so good
Burritoman "USA" | 01/30/2002
(2 out of 5 stars)
"During the 1970's, Sneaky Pete would periodically throw together a group of Burritos in order to take advantage of the relatively lucrative Asian and European concert tour markets. This is one such Burritos lineup and, while they play rather well, they are essentially no better than many of the countless unknown country-rock bands who labor on the honky-tonk circuit. The only saving grace of this set is the presence of the gifted Gib Guilbeau, whose "Big Bayou" is the highlight of the album. "White Line Fever" (which was successfully recorded by a previous Burritos lineup) is also fairly well done, but most of the rest is far less than stellar. The few Burritos numbers are not performed particularly well, and the rendition of "Six Days on the Road" is downright annoying, especially with Skip Battin's horrid vocals (and the addition of such idiotic lines as, "Hey diddle, diddle, Gibby plays the fiddle down the middle"). Evidently short of good material (or perhaps realizing that they could not do justice to established Burritos material), the band tosses in a few extremely stale country chestnuts as well, including inferior versions of such shopworn standards as "Truck Drivin' Man", "Rollin in My Sweet Baby's Arms", and the dreadfully hokey "Rocky Top". In essence, this is mostly a recording of a generic band doing generic material, and does nothing to enhance the reputation of the Burritos as a creative, innovative force in the music world. This one is for completists only."
Burritoman "USA" | 03/24/1999
(2 out of 5 stars)
"This live set from Tokyo features Gib Guilbeau and Sneaky Pete leading a technically proficient but undistinguished group through a hodgepodge of country standards, with a few Burritos tunes sprinkled throughout. The highlight of the album is Guilbeau's "Big Bayou" with excellent steel guitar work by Sneaky Pete. This album is a cut below the live set "From Another Time", recorded in 1976 with a better lineup. OK for diehard fans, but not essential."