The Gilded Palace of Sin
opens with the rollicking, corrosive “Christine’s Tune,” a song which deftly illustrates the Flying Burrito Brothers’ desire to keep their feet planted among different eras. There’s something positively old-fashioned about the umbrage of the “She’s a devil in disguise” refrain, yet the song looks forward with a laser-like guitar solo and Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman’s thickly produced and pinched harmonies. Like the Nudie suits sported by all band members on the cover, there’s something lightly provocative about the Brothers’ means of cobbling together influences and filling them out with sound
: heavily-strummed acoustic guitar, wildly oscillating bass patterns, reverb, and always those harmonies.
This makes The Gilded Palace of Sin
something of a classic within its genre for those who don’t usually find themselves on country music’s wavelength—just the acerbic shard of fuzz guitar which protrudes about 45 seconds into the simple ditty “Wheels” should convince casual listeners that Parsons and company are here to fashion expressive sonic architecture that juts out from the folk tunes to which they’re attached. This dialectic of simplicity and total sonic saturation is executed almost flawlessly on the album, over and over again. “Sin City” could be the peak of the Brothers’ approach to their uncluttered tuneage, weaving together a 3/4 mosey with more gorgeous and invigorating harmonies from Parsons and Hillman and some yearning steel guitar from Pete Kleinow. “It seems like this whole town’s insane,” the two of them sing, and you feel the gravity of their remove from society even as they render it lithe and gorgeous.
It’s “Hot Burrito #1” that will ultimately capture the attention of newcomers, though--a perfect ballad and showcase for Parsons’ vocals, limned by Drake-like pleas for attention and respect: “You may be sweet and nice / But that won't keep you warm at night / Cause I'm the one who showed you how / To do the things you're doing now,” goes the first verse, Parsons shaking with passion. One could chastise the songwriter for his all-too-familiar chauvinism, and one would be right to do so. Yet the whole package is so intoxicating--one foot in the past, one in the future, as is the band's artistic prerogative--that a reshuffling of ethical and aesthetic priorities is in order for the listener, or at least a close examination of these priorities. When beauty and hatred come intertwined like this, even the most hardened of listeners might find themselves undone, coming up from the dusk of sound to face honestly the breadth of the many emotions we call love.