Chris Hillman Bidin’ My Time Rounder Records
With those two words, Americana is defined.
The fact that he was once in a band called the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers should have told me he was going to be my Americana touchstone, but I didn’t discover that group’s sole recording until years after I fell under his spell. Trace a line through the most significant groups, albums, songs, and moments of Americana and roots music of the last 50 years, and as likely as not one encounters Hillman.
The Hillmen. The Byrds. Turn! Turn! Turn! Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Flying Burrito Brothers. Gilded Palace of Sin. “Sin City.” “Wheels.” Manassas. Souther-Hillman-Furay. McGuinn-Clark-Hillman. Hillman-Pedersen. The Desert Rose Band, maybe the best country band of the 1990s. “One Step Forward.” Rice, Rice, Hillman, Pedersen.
The Byrds were no more before I had heard of them. Ditto The Flying Burrito Brothers. How some feel about Roger McGuinn and more frequently Gram Parsons, that is the esteem in which I hold Chris Hillman.
Two stories: I once stalked Hillman for most of a Wintergrass festival, following him around from stage to workshop to lunch. I stopped myself before it got too creepy. I thought. I once set out to see Hillman and Pedersen at an Edmonton casino show, only to discover 125 kilometres into the drive that I had forgotten my wallet at work. By the time I had retraced 250 km, and added on another 75 to finish it off, it was too late to make the show. I was crushed, and ended up sitting in a hotel parking lot listening to the final 15-minutes of At Edwards Barn at journeys end.
Bidin’ My Time, Hillman’s first album in the dozen years since The Other Side, is a significant return if for no other reason that it features so many of the folks—McGuinn, David Crosby, John Jorgenson, Pedersen, Jay Dee Maness—with whom he in no small way created what we now call Americana. That the album was produced by Tom Petty, and features Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench is icing. It is perfection across 33-minutes.
[I delayed publishing this review as I was waiting for the official release, with full credits, to make its way to me. It hasn’t, so I am unsure of who played exactly where as I am relying on an advance copy lacking notes. In the meantime, of course, Las Vegas was rocked and Petty passed.]
The album’s first track, familiar from Mr. Tambourine Man, is “The Bells of Rhymney,” which quickly swells to an explosion of harmony (courtesy of Crosby and Pedersen) that is unforgettable. Additional numbers from The Byrds are revisited, including the bluegrass-flavoured “The New John Robertson” (“The Old John Robertson,” The Notorious Byrd Brothers) and Gene Clark’s “She Don’t Care About Time.” The classic pop sounding “Here She Comes Again” is a four-decade old McGuinn-Hillman composition that sounds immediately familiar.
“Restless,” “Different Rivers,” “Given All I Can See,” and the title track are all Hillman-Steve Hill co-writes testifying to Hillman’s enduring mastery of song and performance. At 72 years, Hillman remains full-voiced, fully in control as he presides over these songs. The arrangements are full and even lush, ideally suited to complement each other as an album. Closing with “Wildflowers,” Hillman sings familiar words with a gravity magnified by this week’s events:
You belong among the wild flowers,
You belong somewhere close to me,
Far away from your trouble and worry-
You belong somewhere you feel free,
You belong somewhere you feel free.
Bidin’ My Time. The song hints at what Hillman is looking toward, but this album—the seventh released under his name since 1976—allows hope that gig is a-ways in the future.
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