Chris Hillman co-founded some of the most classic, seminal, groundbreaking acts of the ’60s and ’70s – namely The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas, and The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. But in the mid 1970’s, he decided it was time to try things on his own.
1976 saw the release of Slippin’ Away, Mr. Hillman’s first solo album. This was a star-studded affair, featuring members of Booker T. & The M.G.’s (!), Poco, Buffalo Springfield, The Turtles, and a host of ace studio musicians. Hillman took his place as frontman, and the results were “the classic ’70’s L.A. sound”.
In 1977, Clear Sailin’, came out; this saw him dial back the flashy supporting cast for a more traditional release — much like the imusic he had created in his early years with The Byrds and Burritos. For Clear Sailin’, Mr. Hillman enlisted a core band with production by Jim Mascon (Poco, Firefall). As well, several songs feature co-writes with Crawdaddy magazine’s founder, Peter Knobler.
Now, thanks to the tireless work from the good folks at Omnivore Recordings, The Asylum Years presents both of those ’70s albums on one disc, with an essay from Scott Schinder and featuring a new interview with Hillman. It’s not one of those “completist” things but an important look at the beginnings to the solo career of an important American artist.
“Step On Out” kicks things off perfectly, with (naturally) a country feel, but a rock-boogie rhythm/groove, with rich vocal harmonies and background – why wasn’t this plastered all over radio? The title track, “Slippin’ Away” has that very laid back, “easy” ’70’s vibe, driven by Fender Rhodes piano and Mr. Hillman’s very smooth singing; “Take It On The Run” is a slice of Southern-style rock with some vicious yet tasteful bottleneck guitar and “Midnight Again” is a big production with a big sound – anthemic and very much of the time. “Fallen Favorite” has an exquisite opening with guitars and keyboards; harmonies and piano driven melody; “Hot Dusty Roads” definitely has that Burritos vibe, with its’ galloping rhythm and good-time feel (think “The Older Guys”) and “Playing The Fool” is another of those radio-friendly moments, with a great groove (listen to that bassline).
I’m very happy to see Mr. Hillman’s first solo works being brought back to the public consciousness. With a more-than-formidable resume (so to speak), having these first two albums available again is a great way to continue exploring the interesting work of a very fine, but sometimes criminally overlooked, artist.
The Asylum Years is currently available