With the addition of Country educated Gram Parsons, the already famous Byrds took a paramount change for the best. They had ditched the twelve string Rickenbacker, picked up a pedal steel, and never turned back. From 1968 on, the legendary “Byrds” would now be associated with smooth harmonies, acoustic guitars and Country Rock, opposed to twangy guitars, Psychedelia and David Crosby (Who had left the group prior). Covers of greats like Woody Guthrie and Merle Haggard would move quickly into their sets, but even though the group lost various members, added a few, and lost a large portion of their original sound, they were still The Byrds, and still amazing and ground breaking.
Sweetheart of The Rodeo was McGuinn and the boys’ first venture outside of their Psychedelic/Folk-Rock natural sound, that had been with them since the early 60’s. However, the group had played around with the Country Rock sound for sometime. Albums like Fifth Dimension and Turn! Turn! Turn! feature various interpretations of the Country sound on songs like “5D (Fifth Dimension)” and numerous others. Also, being that The Byrds had always been attracted to Folk, Country was never that far away. All the band needed was someone to bring the sound out of them. Which Gram Parsons successfully managed to do.
Sweetheart of the Rodeo is a cluster of wonderful melodies and sounds of the West. Throughout the album, the band relies on the twangy sound of the pedal steel guitar and stacked harmonies to each song strong. The technical ability displayed is not amazing, but they do great with what they have. Other than guitarist Clarence White, the band had never been technically proficient. But The Byrds are of course not weak in most fields. During each song, the group throws out wonderful vocal ability, with fantastic harmonies and melodies. And generally, all things are great Country band should have.
Musically, covers rule the album. Like every other release, Bob Dylan songs play a role, and on this release, there is no difference. The band does not only cover Dylan though. They venture to legends like Merle Haggard and Woody Guthrie, and tackle artists like The Louvin’ Brothers and William Bell. Surprisingly, the covers outweigh the originals. Not only are they done much better, but there is much more of them. From the beautiful “I am a Pilgrim” to “Blue Canadian Rockies”, the covers dominate the album and really add an interesting property.
Throughout all of the covers and small amount of originals, The Byrds touch many different emotions and subjects. The intro “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” owns a very optimistic thought that opens the album perfectly. “The Christian Life”, with it’s sincere example of a Christian made myself and other look at the band differently, and the fact that they added no sarcasm, nor tongue and cheek attitude really makes the cover genuine.
Sweethearts of the Rodeo is a fantastic and important album. The album had done so much for Country, Country Rock and brought Gram Parsons to the mainstream. On top of those large effects, Sweetheart of the Rodeo started off the career of Clarence White. One of Country Rock and Bluegrass’ most important lead guitarists. Overall, the album is just plain good and was very important in the progression of Rock ‘n’ Roll.