Chris Hillman’s Still Flying High on New Album, Bidin’ My Time

By Terry Roland

Chris Hillman’s first solo album in a decade provides a roadmap through his 55-year career. Never one to base his work on the past, Hillman has brought to the album, continuity, with a sense of history and up-to-the minute creativity. This include fresh takes on deep-track Byrds songs and originals reminiscent of Hillman’s The Desert Rose Band days.

Unlike the album title, Hillman is doing anything but biding his time. With co-producer, the late-Tom Petty, this album is a reminder that the best in roots music today can be delivered with warmth and a straight-forward attitude, dropping all pretensions and posturing in favor of artistic integrity.  The production shows that Hillman and Petty have seen beyond the vast wasteland of modern country music as heard on mainstream radio. Instead they have focused their attention on what is timeless in country music. To be succinct, this album is country-rock at its finest without a trace of trend or commercial yearnings.

Opening with Pete Seeger’s, electrified Byrds classic, “Bells of Rhymney,” Hillman’s voice may not be the most familiar of the original Byrds, but he has always graced his vocal with an appeal that brings out the best in the song. “Bells of Ryhmny” begins slowly with Hillman’s vocal up-front and center-stage, displaying just a twist of age and vulnerability in his otherwise youthful voice. Then it slowly builds into a church-like Byrds crescendo complete with jangly guitars and pristine layered vocal harmonies. All with the help of his Desert Rose pals, John Jorgensen and Herb Pedersen. Even his old Byrds pals, David Crosby and Roger McGuinn make an appearance. Most likely, this will be as close as we’ll come to a Byrds reunion.

Hillman has always been a talented, stable and charismatic front-man for his past bands. His few years as a bassist makes The Byrds a career anomaly. He was unjustly overshadowed by Gram Parsons’ short stint with The Byrds during the late 60’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo period. He and Parsons bonded through their love for country music. Leaving the Byrds resulted in the two forming The Flying Burrito Brothers. Though the band was not a commercial success, their influence on country-rock, with Hillman and Parsons at the helm, along with ex-Byrd, Michael Clarke, pedal steel guitarist, Sneaky Pete Kleinow,  Rick Roberts and Bernie Leadon, would lead to the success of band’s like The Eagles. In the late 80s, with Jorgensen and Pedersen, The Desert Rose Band scored several chart-topping hits during one of country music radio’s only Golden Ages, a period Steve Earle has called ‘the great credibility threat of the 80s.”

With so much critical, artistic and commercial success, Bidin’ My Time could have been an opportunity for Hillman to ride on past glories. But, this is not his interest here. Included in the collection are lesser known Byrds’ songs like Gene Clark’s exquisite, “She Don’t Care About Time” and a near-forgotten country Byrds song, “Old John Robertson” about a silent film director known by Hillman during his San Diego childhood. Hillman turns the song into bluegrass-infused fun.

The original songs could be considered newly discovered Desert Rose songs, including “Bidin’ my Time”, a steel guitar/mandolin-driven metaphor about mortality. “Such is the World that We Live In”, is a topical anthem of relief after hard times in America. “When I Get a Little Money” is Desert Rose in a stripped-down acoustic mode with a fresh take on the common-man theme.

“Wildflowers,” the final song on the album, is one of those rare recorded gems that is captured in only the most unsuspecting and haunting moments of recorded musical synchronicity. Hillman had no idea when he recorded his moving version of Tom Petty’s song, it would be a farewell song. With this version, produced by Petty, “Wildflowers” has become an ode to the songwriter. So, the album’s finale takes on an unintentional bittersweet irony as Chris Hillman honors Tom Petty. It is a gesture worthy of Hillman as an original member of The Byrds, the band Tom Petty loved and whose sound he founded his career on.

With the loss of so many rock veterans over the last two years, Bidin’ My Time rings with an inspired renewal of musical form. It is a flawless reminder of the country-rock Chris Hillman has always championed. He has been its finest surviving pioneer and ambassador.

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Terry Roland

Terry Roland

Terry Paul Roland was born in West Texas, grew up in Southern California absorbing music as diverse as Buddy Holly, Love, The Doors, Hanks Williams, The Beach Boys and Woody Guthrie. His past features and interview subjects have included country and roots singer-songwriters Jimmie Dale Gilmore, John Prine, Butch Hancock, Iris Dement, Ricky Skaggs, Blame Sally, Peter Case, Mary Gauthier, The Jayhawks, Taj Mahal and David Lindley. His articles and interviews have been prasied for their insights and unique perspective on some of today’s finest singer-songwriters. He also publishes with San Diego Troubadour, FolkWorks, No Depression and Sun209.
Terry Roland

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