From the extensive if not valued Fervor Coulee Archive:
Within a band of fascinating characters, Chris Hillman was, for me, always the most cool of the Flying Burrito Brothers. I would like to think it was because I sensed the soulful spirit of bluegrass he brought to their albums. Perhaps it was the solid sense of musicianship and stability he projected while surrounded by an occasionally raggle-taggle group of musicians. Maybe it was simply because he co-wrote “Wheels.” It could have been the hair.
Whatever his reasons, Sid Griffin was similarly taken by the California-born Hillman.
The Coal Porters, Griffin’s (ex-Long Ryders, current music journalist and performer) long running England-based group seemingly dedicated to promoting all things Gram Parsons, turn their collective heads in a respectful nod to Hillman- ex-Byrd, ex- Flying Burrito, ex- Desert Rose Band, and current member of Out Of The Woodwork.
Despite being recorded at various gigs in London, Nashville, Louisville, and New York City and with a variety of sidemen, this album is remarkably cohesive and provides a tremendous overview of the bluegrass tinged legacy and being that is Chris Hillman.
Completely acoustic, there is no arguing the instrumental chops and motivation of eighth generation (both sides) Kentuckian Griffin and his compatriots of Irish, Scottish, and English ancestry. This is an entertaining, high-octane bluegrass homage to a country-rock pioneer.
The playing is loose- comfortably relaxed, never sloppy- without the gloss of a precision bluegrass band. The heartfelt intent is to pay tribute to an idol and icon.
The banjo playing of Pat McGarvey is at the forefront of most numbers including a version of Leon Payne’s “The Lost Highway” (sung here by Neil Robert Herd) and “I Am A Pilgrim,” a cut Hillman sang on the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. Griffin’s mandolin performance, while not stellar in the sense of a Thile or Bush, is enthusiastic and spot on.
For those who remember Hillman from the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers (or at least have heard the reissued disc) to those who thought the Desert Rose Band was the brightest spot in the late-eighties neo-traditional country landscape, The Chris Hillman Tribute Concerts is a must purchase.
In true bluegrass spirit the album closes with Griffin’s voice over the P.A.- “CDs in the lobby!”
Originally published 2001, Bluegrass Now; I am fairly certain the editor worked overtime to turn this into something publishable. One day, I will be brave enough to compare the printed copy (in a box somewhere) and what I submitted, this.