In the 50 years since the band released its first album, The Gilded Palace of Sin (1969), there have been a plethora of different incarnations of the band known variously as “The Flying Burrito Brothers,” “Burrito Deluxe,” and, more simply, “The Burrito Brothers,” all of which have employed dozens if not hundreds of musicians and singers over the decades.
This is only fitting as the collective permutations of the FBB have often been credited as one of the most seminal representatives of that hybrid genres of music known both as “folk-rock” and “country-rock.” This is the only band I’ve ever heard that can play equally credible renditions of classic songs by, for instance, both The Rolling Stones and Merle Haggard, as well their own excellent originals, in the same set, and have them all sound completely credible, unique, and personal.
The current edition of the group is Greg Harris (guitar, v & lead vocals), Jeff Pevar (guitar & lap-steel guitar), David Jackson (bass), and Don Heffington (drums) - some of whom have played in previous editions of the FBB (and variations thereof) even though this particular line-up is billed as “An All Star Tribute to the Flying Burrito Brothers.”
The show at The Iridium, on November 6, was only their fifth gig as a working band - or so they announced to the packed house. Yet they clearly have the music in their bones. The evening started with a subset of Burrito classics from that pivotal first album, Gilded Palace of Sin, beginning with “Christine’s Tune” (which most of us know as “Devil in Disguise,” although perhaps named as such to avoid confusion with the earlier Elvis song), and “Sin City,” which adds another feather to the group’s cap - they’re not only country, rock, and folk, but with this song, also Gospel, while “Do Right Woman” is the soul classic associated with Aretha Franklin, but done in a highly congenial, countrified fashion.
Over nearly two hours, they got around to nearly all of the early FBB classics, Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever” and “Sing Me Back Home” (a highly moving and redemptive prison song) and the Rolling Stones’s “Wild Horses” (don’t hate me, but I have always preferred the more country-styled Burrito Bros. version). The quartet also introduced some newer songs and originals (I mean original originals, as opposed to Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman originals), including a tribute to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, delivered in something closer to a 4/4 western swing beat, and Junior Parker’s iconic blues, “Mystery Train.” I swear, every time I hear it, that train gets longer and longer - from “sixteen coaches long” to God knows how many, until it led into another classic train song, the bluegrass anthem “Orange Blossom Special.”
Then the evening ended abruptly - the quartet left the stage mysteriously before doing the one song we all wanted to hear. Thankfully they soon were back to do it as an encore, this being the song that the original Burrito line-up performed at the legendary Altamont festival in 1969 (the west coast answer to Woodstock, produced by the Stones) - there’s a video clip showing 300,000 mostly stoned young hippies boogie-ing and getting off to the sound of Dave Dudley’s country-and-western classic, “Six Days on the Road.” An evening of trucks and trains and prison - you can’t get more country than that.