Sweetheart of the Rodeo
Sweetheart of the Rodeo was originally intended as a grand overview of 20th Century American music. But new recruit Gram Parsons, bought in to replace David Crosby, steered the group into country music. While country had been present in their sound, particularly Hillman’s songs, Sweetheart of the Rodeo is disarmingly straightforward country music; ‘Christian Life’ is delivered entirely sincerely. It also bypasses the signature Byrds sound – the chiming Rickenbacker and the vocal harmonies are largely absent, although the record company’s insistence to wipe some of Parsons’ lead vocals and replace them with McGuinn’s gives it more of a Byrds’ feel.
It’s a very consistent record; there are only two originals, both from Parsons – the soulful ‘Hickory Wind’ and the quicker ‘One Hundred Years from Now’. Elsewhere, there are a couple of Dylan songs, from his as-then unreleased Basement Tapes, and a bunch of country chestnuts from the likes of Woody Guthrie, The Louvin Brothers, and Merle Haggard.
Once you’re accustomed to a Byrds record that bears only a passing resemblance to their previous work, Sweetheart of the Rodeo is very enjoyable. Hillman and Parsons left The Byrds after this album, and started the Flying Burrito Brothers, whose 1969 album Gilded Palace of Sin is even better.