Photos by Lou Montesano
If there were a Mount Rushmore of Country Rock, Chris Hillman’s face would be forever enshrined in granite. From the Byrds to the Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas and his Desert Rose Band, Hillman has remained true to American roots music. For the past decade, he’s been playing small shows with long-time collaborator Herb Petersen, making the title of his new album, Bidin’ My Time, ironically appropriate. Now, joined by Pedersen and fellow Desert Rose bandmate John Jorgenson, Hillman is back on tour, introducing new songs, reprising old favorites and earning high marks for his musicianship and authenticity.
Appearing at New York’s City Winery on the second night of a 20-show tour that will stretch through November, the trio was warmly received and every bit as gracious in return. From the opening harmonies of “The Bells of Rhymney,” it was clear that Hillman and his friends’ voices have aged remarkably well. The adaptation of the Pete Seeger song covered by the Byrds on their 1965 debut album also appears on Bidin’ My Time, with guest harmonies by David Crosby. The album, produced by Tom Petty, draws upon many of the influences and relationships that have defined Hillman’s 50-plus year career. Fellow Byrd Roger McGuinn also appears on the album, along with Petty and Heartbreakers Benmont Tench and Steve Ferrone.
The City Winery set included Petty’s “Wildflowers” and a take of the Everly Brothers’ “Walk Right Back,” both of which are on the album. Shifting between guitar and mandolin, Hillman took time out to engage the audience with tales from his days with the Byrds, the Burritos and the Southern California music scene of the late ‘60s. He shared the back story of Gram Parsons’ “Wheels” (a Laurel Canyon motorcycle accident) and gave an especially affectionate shoutout to one of the most underappreciated Byrds, the late Gene Clark, on “She Don’t Care About Time.”
Classics such as “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “Eight Miles High” alternated with tunes from the new album, including “Given All I Can See,” “Restless” and the title track. Of particular note was “Here She Comes Again,” a song co-written with Roger McGuinn that the Byrds performed live but never recorded in the studio. It’s the classic upbeat, jingle-jangle sound that always made the Byrds’ music irresistibly listenable.
It’s great to see artists like Chris Hillman not only in fine form but energetic and revitalized, performing a retrospective while breaking new ground. Upcoming tour dates include The Grand Ole Opry and City Winery in Nashville plus shows in Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois before winding down in California.