Chris Hillman
& Herb Pedersen,
Way Out West
(Back Porch, 2002)

Famous in country-rock circles for decades, both Chris Hillman of the late, great Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and his own Desert Rose Band, and Herb Pedersen, one of Hillman's top sidemen in DRB and a renowned former leader in his own right, share equal billing and space on Way Out West, a recently released work that would have made Hillman's fellow Burrito, Gram Parsons, proud. The long deceased progenitor of this once popular but now mostly forgotten genre is even referenced on the advance copy of the CD with the quote, "Perfect for fans of Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers." More country than rock, lovers of Poco and early Eagles may find this a rewarding listen as well. Their label, Back Porch Records, calls this CD "California Country."

Replete with the requisite pedal steel guitars, mandolins, banjos and fiddles, Hillman, Pedersen and their band offer us 17 tracks, including three instrumentals, of enjoyable mid-weight country-rock. Way Out West was produced by Hillman and includes a supporting cast anchored by the instrumental star of this disc, Jay Dee Maness, the great pedal steel guitarist who played at the two leaders' side in the Desert Rose Band.

The duo's voices and singing style, whether alone or in harmony, fit the songs perfectly. Lyrically the music is fairly typical of most country-rock, featuring songs about love and its downside as well as laments about what it feels like not to be living life down the straight and narrow.

Since most of the songs are in the mid- to up-tempo range, and the arrangements are fairly similar, a sameness starts to creep in by the end of the disc but not enough to detract from the listener's overall pleasure. I find myself enjoying this disc more listening to the songs individually or when mixed with other CDs in my five-disc shuffle player.

Highlights include a cover of Roger Miller's "Invitation to the Blues," a cover of the Platters' old chestnut "Save the Last Dance for Me" with pedal steel guitar work that would make one think the tune was originally a country song rather than a romantic piece of R&B, and the gospel influenced "The Old Cross Roads." "Our Love Don't Come Easy," more rock-influenced than the rest of the album, adds some diversity to the set.

[ by Charlie Ricci ]
Rambles: 31 August 2002

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