The Byrds' sixth album "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" from 1968 offered a major genre change from the 12-string guitar-based psychedelia towards country rock, a genre that was poorly established at this time. The album is thus a pioneering release within the genre.
Of the original five Byrds, only Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman remained. In relation to the previous album, "The Notorious Byrd Brothers", David Crosby and Michael Clarke had been replaced by Gram Parsons and Kevin Kelley.
As a newcomer to the group, Gram Parsons had a surprisingly large influence on the group's new musical direction, but Chris Hilmann also had strong roots in country music and had no difficulty seeing the perspectives in the new direction.
Unlike in the past, only a few songs are newly written by the group's members; actually only two, both written by Gram Parsons. Two Dylan songs help ensure that you recognize the group after all and both are among the album's strongest cuts. A nice catchy version of "You Ain't Going Nowhere" is the perfect opener for the album, with McGuinn's well-known lead vocals and Hillman's characteristic harmonies you feel in good and safe company from the start. The second Dylan track, "Nothing was Delivered", rounds off the album so that the circle is nicely closed. The track is one of the most rocking, and could really have fit on one of the previous albums.
Both Gram Parson's tracks are also very nice and, perhaps a little surprisingly, not really country either. Most country is the fine "Hickory Wind", which features lead vocals from Parsons. "One Hundred Years From Now" is almost classic Byrds with vocals from McGuinn and Hillman, but future Byrds member Clarence White brings in his characteristic guitar playing.
These four tracks mentioned are probably my favourites. I have a bit of a hard time with the tracks that are almost old-school country. However, it must be said that even though musically they are very far from the Byrds, which I originally fell for, everything musically is very accomplished. "I Am a Pilgrim", "Christian Life", "You Don't Miss Your Water", "You're Still on my Mind", "Blue Canadian Rockies" and "Life in Prison" belong to this category. Two of these feature more guitar from Clarence White, while vocals are split equally between McGuinn, Parsons and Hillman. Finally, there is "Pretty Boy Floyd" by Woody Guthrie, which is more folkish and doesn't seem quite so foreign to the group. The number is without the steel guitar that otherwise characterizes the album, but where, on the other hand, there has been room for Hillman's mandolin.
By; Morten Vindberg