by C.B. Smith
You’d be hard pressed to think of a contemporary musician who’s done more to get bluegrass noticed than Chris Hillman. A mandolin picker since his southern California teens, Chris got recruited to play electric bass in the original lineup of The Byrds, even though he claims he’d previously never touched that instrument.
After five rock records, Chris helped influence The Byrds’ astonishing foray into country and bluegrass on their highly influential Sweetheart of the Rodeo album before moving on to co-found The Flying Burrito Brothers and the Desert Rose Band.
This live recording from a 2009 performance is a mix of tunes from all sorts of sources and styles. It’s got gospel courtesy of Ralph Stanley, some fine Louvin Brothers harmony singing, a Buck Owens tribute, a few obscure originals, and hits from Hillman’s Desert Rose and Burritos days. It also features a trio of early Byrds gems, and it’s surprising how well they translate to a bluegrass format, with Hillman’s mandolin mirroring lines that originated on the 12-string Rickenbacker.
But more than a collection of songs this album is a celebration of a longstanding musical friendship. Herb Pedersen, who serves primarily as superb harmony vocalist, has been a pal of Hillman’s since the ‘60’s, and they formed the core of the Desert Rose Band through the 80’s and 90’s. The duo’s voices sound better than ever, and they’re joined here by three accomplished players: David Mansfield on fiddle, Larry Park picking lovely acoustic leads, and Bill Bryson on bass.
Highly recommended fare.