on 26 March 2000
The Byrds move into country music must have bemused or either stunned the fans of "Happening" music like their previous recordings, "Notorious Byrd Brothers" and "Younger than Yesterday". However, in retrospect the clues were there. The main protagonists behind "Sweetheart" were bassist Chris Hillman, whom after the exits of Gene Clark and David Crosby, was now exerting a stronger influence on the group, and new boy Gram Parsons. Chief Byrd, Roger McGuinn had originally planned to record a history of 20th century music, and Parsons had been recruited as an improbable "Jazz" keyboardist. Once on board, Parsons alligned with Hillman to make a young persons C & W album. "Sweetheart", although not the first country-rock statement, is arguably the most significant. Part of its impact on the listener is due to the groups refreshing non-ironic approach. The Byrds being the Byrds begin and finish the original album with 2 Dylan songs. "You Ain't Going Nowhere" allows McGuinn to supply his trademark Dylan/Lennon vocal(his trademark Rickenbacker is largely absent from "Sweetheart"). The sing-along nature of the song has ensured that it has remained in McGuinn's repetoire to the present day. "Nothing was Delivered" sees rock and country come together with Kevin Kelley's drum rolls working to great effect with the steel guitar. The familiar country concerns of God, booze and prison - not always in that order - are all present and correct on the album. McGuinn also adds a bluegrass flavoured tribute to the "People's Outlaw" in his version of Woody Guthrie's "Pretty Boy Floyd". Parsons is the only Byrd to add original songs to the project. He gives a suitably poignant mood to his "Hickory Wind" and writes "100 Years from Now". Supposedly due to legal reasons, his vocals were removed from a lot of the songs. The enhanced re-release adds these as bonus tracks. Interestingly it is McGuinn's and Hillman's harmonies on "100 Years from Now" that provide the template for future Country Rock giants, The Eagles. Soon after its recording Parsons and Hillman formed The Flying Burrito Brothers to take their vision of country-rock-soul further. McGuinn assembled another Byrds line-up but stuck also with the country sound (future recruit, Clarence White's guitar is prominent on "Sweetheart") For any serious fan of rock music, "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" is an essential purchase. It's sound still gives comfort in these hi-tech times.
This album was considered revolutionary when it was originally recorded - a rock band recording a country album with a rock edge - but it was so influential that nobody hearing it now will think there is anything revolutionary about it.
Bob Dylan wrote two of the songs - You ain't going nowhere and Nothing was delivered - while there are also covers of songs by soul singer William Bell (You don't miss your water) and Woody Guthrie (Pretty boy Floyd).
Gram Parsons contributed two songs - One hundred years from now and Hickory wind. He also wrote Lazy days, which was recorded for the original album but not included on it. This is added as one of several bonus tracks, some of which feature Gram as lead singer instead of Roger McGuinn.
The remaining tracks are covers of country songs that had previously been recorded by (among others) George Jones and Merle Haggard.
Not long after this album was recorded, Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons left and formed the Flying Burrito brothers. The music here set the pattern for that band and other country-rock bands such as Poco and the early Eagles music. But in the new millennium, mainstream pop, rock and country music all seem far removed from this album. Modern singers and bands doing music of this type are classified as alt-country. Although the term alt-country covers many different styles, the influence of this album is obvious in many alt-country singers and bands.
The music here is excellent on its own merit. It was not very successful at the time but has grown in status with the passage of time.
on 25 October 2003
I purchased this album when first released and it remains one of my favourites.Undoubtedly now elevated to a 'super status' category( partly because of its immense influence on modern alternate country and bands such as The Eagles), the Sweetheart is a timeless classic which loses none of its charm and potency. The musicianship is superb and history will place this as one of the all time classics of the country-rock genre.As an exteded CD, we have the advantage of extra material which is a compliment to the original; with alternate takes and newly released songs, which sit alongside the others seamlessly.I personally have a fine CD to replace a well scratched piece of vinyl!
Previous reviewers have already eloquently written much of this album's history. 'nuff said. Buy a piece of history for yourself and enjoy. It won't be difficult.
on 26 January 2005
I've had this album since it was first released. I would say that it has got to be one of the dozen or so essential albums in any popular music lovers collection, and in this expanded version is a must buy.
My fellow reviewers have given you the details, I just advise you to do yourselves a big favour & add this to your collection, I promise you won't be disappointed.
In which our boys go to Nashville. Our hero Roger dusts off his banjo and his trusty sidekick, Chris, gets to play mandolin.
After his magnum opus, "The Notorious Byrd Brothers", what was McGuinn to do next? He had plans for a double album on the history of American popular music. To that end he recruited a new guy as a pianist. That guy was Gram Parsons, a man who would be a legend before very long. Famously it was Parsons who persuaded McGuinn to put aside his rather grandiose plans and to concentrate instead purely on country. One suspects that both Chris Hillman, the only other surviving Byrd, and Gary Usher, the producer, were not too unhappy with this decision. Apart from Hillman, who had actually played in a bluegrass band, most of the other Byrds would have had some understanding of early C&W given the overlap with American traditional folk music. Gene Clark, the Byrd who'd left and rejoined, then left again, had included country influenced material on the solo album he'd made, "Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers". Hillman had played on that along with pedal steel player who, by now, was almost a Byrd himself (Clarence White) having appeared on both the previous albums. The Byrds themselves had introduced quite a number of country touches in their previous two albums. Even the blessed Bob was rumoured to be moving in that direction - "John Wesley Hardin" had boasted a very simplified approach akin to country; "Nashville Skyline" was to follow.
Listened to now, "Sweetheart" is almost a straight country album albeit with some unusual songs, and with slightly rock oriented drumming and with a vocal chorus. That said, those song choices, particularly the Dylan numbers, the William Bell song and even the older country/folk numbers like "Pretty Boy Floyd" would not have been made by a C&W artist operating out of Nashville at that time. To the rock/pop audience at that time you could turn that round the other way. They wouldn't necessarily be familiar with the material but they would have come to expect the Byrds covering folk ditties. It was the mainstream Nashville material that would phase them. This just wasn't cool!
I recall having very mixed views myself when I bought the vinyl version of this album. It was the songs themselves that eventually won me over. "You don't miss your water" particularly stands out. It was a soul ballad which had been a minor hit on the Stax label for William Bell in the early 60's with covers from several other soul artists including Otis. His version was included on the best selling "Otis Blue" album so would be fairly widely known. There was also almost a tradition of soul artists hitting the pop charts with covers of C&W material - Solomon Burke with "Just out of Reach" is an obvious example. This version of the Bell number by the Byrds with McGuinn on vocals (should have been Parsons) and a bluesy piano, must be one of the earliest examples of someone on the other side of the racial divide returning the favour. Yup this was country rock or country soul at the very least.
But I have to concede that it was Gram's version of his own song, "Hickory Wind" that really got me. Aching pedal steel, then fiddle, in slow waltz time, and then it`s Gram, high & lonesome but gradually descending - "In South Carolina, there are many tall pines" - and so on. Gram's other song, "One Hundred years from now" is not quite so spectacular but still stands up well also.
The two Dylan numbers were positioned at the beginning and end of the original album. Both were from the "Basement Tapes" so would be unknown to the general audience. "You aint goin' nowhere" is a great opener. Roger puts on his Dylan voice and the boys join in on the singalong chorus; the pedal steel's there along with clip clopping percussive affects. Given that Dylan hadn't released anything like this at that time - we didn't think he did singalong! - the whole thing was quite a surprise. The closer "Nothing was Delivered" is slightly less successful - the rhythm change for the chorus jars a little - but it's still of interest and a tad more rocky.
In between there's wide range of country numbers, some traditional (arr. R. McGuinn/C. Hillman) or (W.Guthrie) and some contemporary, from the likes of Merle Haggard and George Jones. The boys rather seem to like 3/4 time given its frequency of occurrence (it appeals to me as well). There are some touches of Old Tyme Religion in "I Am a Pilgrim" and "I like the Christian Life". As well as Clarence White there are several other guests deployed, often from the Nashville mafia, in order to achieve the authentic sound. And Roger does get to play his banjo and Chris his mandolin.
Apparently for legal reasons (!?!?) some tracks on the released album had been rerecorded with Roger rather than Gram on vocals. The bonus tracks allow us to hear the Gram versions. He's a natural for this material; McGuinn does his damnedest to sound like him. The tracks are "The Christian Life", "You don't miss your Water", and, "One Hundred Years from Now" (yes, one that he wrote). Some of the the other bonus tracks were candidates for inclusion but, no, we didn't miss anything of note.
In many respects "Sweetheart" is more important for the effect it had in kick starting country rock than the music it contained. But the music had to stand up for this to happen. With the alt country cum Americana revolution we've lived with over the last decade it's interesting to look back on early attempts to widen the popularity of country outside the redneck belt - though it`s to be remembered that there was a healthy country scene in Bakersfield, California. This album scores well in this context. The only possible criticisms I have are that, (a) it would have been nice if there had been some more originals, and, (b) I do ever so slightly miss Roger's humorous touch; they are just a bit earnest here.
At this stage I have a confession to make. Many years back, I promised a friend of mine who was also an acquaintance of Pete Frame, the Rock Family Trees guy, that I'd review all the Byrds albums to that date. Well, eventually I`ve done it and I don't really want to count how many years later this is! Who was it said "Don't make promises"? As a postscript I would add that Columbia have done a perfectly good job with these legacy albums in terms of packaging and notes. The bonus tracks don't offer any real surprises but then, I do have the box set as well on which several of these numbers had appeared.
1968's 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo' was a landmark album at the time. Here, for the first time ever, we had an established rock band making a major country record, with a rock edge. Though The Byrds had previously dipped their toes occasionally into this popular genre, this was the first album they devoted entirely to this type of music. As excellent as this one certainly is, it isn't my favourite work by these men, therefore I was tempted to rate it four stars, but this 1997 CD re-issue from Sony, merits the complete five.
Enlisting and largely introducing the talents of singer Gram Parsons, he contributed two of the songs: 'Hickory Wind' and 'One Hundred Years from Now'. The rest of the material is cover versions, including two great Bob Dylan interpretations: 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere' and 'Nothnig Was Delivered, which top and bottom the track listing.
This album was quite a flop upon it's release, failing to have a real commercial success in the UK, and stalling at no.77 in the U.S. charts. However, 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo' quickly became a highly influential album (and continues to be so), and many successful artists would go onto follow this formula. Apart from the vocals of front man Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, this was a different sound for The Byrds entirely, but a good one.
Like I said at the end of the first paragraph, this 97' re-issue is excellent, containing a nice little booklet with pictures, an essay by David Frickle, and information about every track. The icing on the cake are definitely the excellent set of bonus tracks, eight in total, some just as good as the cuts on the original album, particularly the Gram Parson's penned 'Lazy Days', as well as previously unissued rehearsal takes.
If you enjoy traditional country music, I am almost certain that you'll love this thoughtful and moving album from the moment you hear it. If you're seeking the psychedelic rock sound that is still most associated with The Byrds though, then I'd recommend that you purchase either it's predecessor The Notorious Byrd Brothers, or the classic debut album Mr. Tambourine Man first.
on 25 May 2012
It should be remembered that Roger Mcguinns orginal concept for the follow up to Notorious Byrd Brothers was a double album documenting 20th century popular musical development from primitive folk to eventually future moog space rock. As ambitious and eccentric as this may seem, the Byrds were desperately struggling to stay in contention with fellow bands that long since surpassed them if not creatively, then certainly as commercial equals.
The Bryds were no stranger to country rock, Mcguinn's "Mr Spaceman" had surfaced as early as 1965 and bassist Chris Hillman had penned the country tinged "Time Between" and "Old John Robertson", both of which showed his healthy respect for the genre. However it was a certain Mr Gram Parsons, hired to replace the sacked Dave Crosby, along with a convinced Hillman who persuaded Roger Mcguinn that country was not only hip, but prehaps more importantly could revive those flagging album sales.
The resulting record "Sweetheart Of The Rodeo" has to be one of rock music's most famous disasters, not for the quality of the songs but for it's troubled recording and following aborted live tour of South Africa. All of these problems have been well documented (and I wont go into them here) but luckily for us this reissue puts right some of the recorded wrongs and we get to hear Gram's wonderful vocals fully restored. "Hickory Wind", "The Christian Life" and "Youre Still On My Mind" are still as sweet sounding now as they must have been then. "Sweetheart" never did take the Byrds back to the top of the charts and in retrospect is probably their last great album before a slow decline in quality and ill fated reunion put the final nail in the coffin.
"Sweetheart" deserves to be recognised as one of the most important, interesting and influential album of the Sixties, it's legacy is immeasurable. So what are you waiting for? Saddle up and enjoy the trip....
on 29 March 2009
Yes, this is The Byrds, and yes, they're playing country music. This album is a world away from the jangly folk-pop they mastered on their first few records and with which they're most associated. As such, 'Sweetheart Of The Rodeo' might not please everyone and it certainly didn't please many music fans or critics at the time of its release, although it's since been recognised as a very influential and groundbreaking record. Two of the most important original members of The Byrds had already left at this point, David Crosby and Gene Clark, and the group began looking for a new direction. Cue Gram Parsons, a young upstart from Georgia, originally drafted in as a keyboardist and vocalist, who pushed The Byrds headlong into country.
Pop & rock bands didn't play country music at all back then, but Parsons' dream was to make the much-maligned genre 'cool' again and have long-haired dope-smokers listen to it. Suffice to say, it didn't work, but 'Sweetheart' did go on to influence a number of musicians and has been credited with starting the 'alternative country' sound, where the boundaries between rock and country music blur. As such it's a very important album and you can trace a line to the likes of The Eagles, Emmylou Harris, Cowboy Junkies, Ryan Adams, Lambchop and many more.
If you shrug off your prejudice and take 'Sweetheart' for what it is, it's a lovely album. Laid-back, traditional and romantic, with The Byrds' usual sweet harmonies still present on many tracks. There's a terrific version of Dylan's 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere' that sounds instantly classic. Gram Parsons contributes the effortlessly beautiful 'Hickory Wind', which hints at what he'd achieve on his later solo records, and there's a great reading of the soul classic 'You Don't Miss Your Water' (which Otis Redding sang on his classic 'Otis Blue' album). Wispy pedal steel and a country twang rule throughout the album.
I found plenty to enjoy here, and I'm not really a fan of country, but it's certainly in The Byrds' top five albums. Just don't expect the jingle-jangle of 'Mr. Tambourine Man' or the psychedelia of 'Eight Miles High'.
on 11 February 2014
I am going to be controversial but after all these years I now recognise that Roger (Jim) McGuinn ruled the Byrds. You only have to listen to his input to this CD and to the 'LIVE' CD to realise that he dominated the group. Not a bad thing as he is so talented and they were loose cannons but Gram, Gene, Michael, David and all were also talented but flawed. This was the greatest group ever - no argument. They could play everything and their country rock is still sensational. All about real life !!.
on 8 November 2004
With an album such as Sweetheart there is one great pitfall to avoid. Gram Parsons has been hailed as a country-rock genius, but he only played on this one Byrds album. He then left the band, formed the Burittos, left them and formed his own band, then died young. So how do you avoid going over the top about the contribution of one dissipated young man?
The answer is not to try. This is a beautiful album, lifted above the Byrd's mainstream pop noodlings by Gram's influence. It is a mix of new songs, old country standards, and the usual bit of Dylan, but all made into a gorgeous and seamless whole. This album probably did invent country-rock. The musicianship is outstanding, usually understated and embellishing the songs rather than standing out from them. The lead vocals and harmonies are all expressive and note perfect. The bonus tracks really are a bonus too - listening to several of the songs with Gram's alternative lead vocal takes remind us again what we're missing.
Why only four stars? Because, however much I love the albums he made after it, Sweetheart of the Rodeo always makes me ask what Gram Parsons would have recorded if he'd stayed with the Byrds just a bit longer.