Friday, February 9, 2018


Always the most underrated Byrd, by the mid-70's Chris Hillman had been an integral member of that group, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Stephen Stills' Manassas, and the Souther-Hillman-Furay group. The only thing he hadn't proved was whether he was a frontman. So that became his next chapter, with two albums in '76 and '77, Slippin' Away and Clear Sailin'. This new collection simply slaps the two of them onto one CD, nothing added or subtracted, and a new essay/interview with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. There's been great praise for his most recent solo album from last year, produced by Tom Petty, which is probably why this has come out.

Hillman was always reluctant to lead the show, but over the years had added songwriting and vocals to his skillful rock, country and bluegrass playing. The big surprise was what a pleasing voice he brought to these albums. Slippin' Away fits well into the California country-rock school that was still thriving in those Eagles/Poco days, and of course Hillman had been instrumental in that whole scene in his previous groups, standing tall with Gram Parsons in both the Byrds and Burritos. That whole first album is a smooth-sounding and easy-on-the-ears standout, Hillman joined by pals such as Timothy B. Schmit, Rick Roberts of Firefall, another ex-Burrito in pedal steel wiz Al Perkins, and even Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn. He wrote most of the songs, and the potential was there for a standout solo career.

When the album failed to hit, a poor decision led to a much glossier, produced sound on the follow-up, Clear Sailin'. Most of the strong players were gone, the material was weaker and the result was a real drop-off. It feels like a generic '70's record, way too thin and polished. Hillman's own songs didn't match up, and a lifeless cover of Marvin Gaye's "Ain't That Peculiar" added nothing. So it was back to the drawing board, with Hillman going through a partial Byrds reunion before ending up leading the very successful Desert Rose Band in the '80's, always happiest when he was doing country/bluegrass. I recommend this collection, but I also recommend you stop it halfway through.

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