Gram Parsons died in 1973, but the legacy of what he and the rest of the original members of The Flying Burrito Brothers created on their first two studio albums is impossible to deny. Everyone from Glenn Frey to Elvis Costello to Emmylou Harris has cited Parsons as an influence and his contribution to the annals of American music serve as a reminder of what country rock can be when it isn’t filtered through the prism of pop sensibility.
Their 1969 debut, “The Gilded Palace of Sin,” is a bona fide masterpiece of any genre, so, upon hearing the band’s latest release, “The Notorious Burrito Brothers,” I was pleased to hear that they remain committed to keeping the spirit of that album alive. I caught up with current vocalist/keyboardist Chris P. James recently to discuss the new project and whether or not the current pandemic has hindered the band’s ability to reap the benefits of all their hard work.
Even if you’ve never heard of them and are just in need of something to immerse yourself in while stuck at home, The Burrito Brothers have got you covered.
MNOD: How have you been dealing with the isolation thus far?
CJ: This is definitely a weird time. It’s almost science fiction-like, because we’ve pretty much been isolated since the whole thing began. My wife and I are both slightly older, so we haven’t had any visitors and have only left the house for groceries a few times. She has Crohn’s Disease, which puts her at a higher risk than other people. A lot of people are suffering out there, but, hopefully, we’ll all get through it OK.
MNOD: Does it feel odd to have a new album out at a time when fans aren’t going to shows or having a lot of extra money to spend on entertainment?
CJ: I’m just glad that we were able to finish the album before everything went down. We’ve always been more of an album-oriented band, so not playing live every night doesn’t really affect us that much. We’d like to play certain dates here and there, but regular touring isn’t our thing. The band is based out of Nashville now and just having the support of a label behind this album has been amazing. We’re proud of the finished product, because this record fits in nicely among the first two albums that The Flying Burrito Brothers ever released.
MNOD: Were you guys able to record all in the same room?
CJ: Yes, we had to. There’s a feeling you get from all being together that can’t be captured any other way. I always look to the drummer to set the groove, which doesn’t work when you’re playing to a click track.
MNOD: How did you first come to join the band?
CJ: I officially joined the band in 2010, but I started playing with them back in 1986. I was a part of the Nashville Tribute to Gram Parsons. No one has ever auditioned for this band. Vacancies were always filled by guys that the band was already familiar with and knew would be the right fit. When the deal was struck with Curb Records back in the ’80s, the encouraged the band to drop the ‘Flying’ in the title and adopt a shorter, catchier direction with pop hooks. Marketing was a big thing and the songs that were released on Curb were different than the original sound, so this new album is definitely more akin to “The Gilded Palace of Sin.” I’ve always considered The Burrito Brothers to be a progressive rock band that incorporates country music, which is exactly what this new album is. Something happened in the ’80s with MTV where everyone wanted to be on the charts and present a certain image, but we’re in the mindset of making classic concept albums. It’s a complete statement and a fully conceptualized piece. When I finally joined, they all said ‘What took you so long?’ and, since then, we’ve returned to the original sound. There have been so many members of this band over the years that I think they’ve had different personnel on every album.
MNOD: Who were some of your influences as a younger musician?
CJ: I was 13-years-old when “The Gilded Palace of Sin” came out, so I was in the perfect age group for that record. I also loved The Byrds, The Beatles, and The Monkees. It’s funny, because a lot of talk at the time was about how The Monkees shouldn’t be taken seriously as a band. Now, people have acknowledged just how much talent there was in the band and how the songs were quality records. That era of the ’60s and ’70s was really the golden age for music.
MNOD: Are there any current bands that you believe carry on the tradition of The Burrito Brothers?
CJ: I don’t know if I’m the best person to judge that, because I don’t really listen to a lot of new stuff. A lot of younger people will listen to something and think it’s good, but their frame of reference isn’t necessarily as wide as mine. It’s hard to hear something that hasn’t been done before, because so much of what comes out today is derivative. I don’t want to say that I’m jaded. I’m just not the target audience for a lot of what is popular today and I’ve never paid much attention to trends. We were all influenced by something and we came together to create our own hybrid of those influences. I’d like to direct people to the band’s web site, which contains a song-by-song blog for the new album and dives into what a lot of the hidden meanings behind the songs are. We’re really proud of this album and how it takes the listener back to the classic era of the band.
Check out http://www.theburritobrothers.net for more information regarding the band and how the new album fits into the overall catalog.
“The Notorious Burrito Brothers” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.