Chris Hillman – The ASYLUM YEARS (Slippin’ & Clear Sailin’)

hillman asylum

Chris Hillman
The ASYLUM YEARS (Slippin’ & Clear Sailin’)
Omnivore Recordings

An Absolute Gem From The Country Music Vaults.

If you don’t already know Chris Hillman’s back-story and place in the Rock Pantheon then perhaps you should stop reading here; but then again not, because if you think Americana Music started with Mumford & Sons or their like then this album is definitely for you.
I actually remember the Slippin’ album being in my big brother Brian’s record collection in the late 70’s which with hindsight is no surprise as he’d been a Byrds and later a Burritos fan; so there’s a logic to it; but I can’t ever remember playing it. (Too many other musical delights for me to discover between 1976 and 1980!).
So when my favourite contact in the US of A asked if I’d like a copy of this re-release of that album coupled with the follow up Clear Sailin’ it was a hearty “YES” from RMHQ.
It was spectacularly weird finally hearing opening track Step On It after 40 years; as it sounds like it has been packaged in a time capsule just waiting for the right time to be released into the wild; and that time is now…2018.
This is followed by the sublimely mellow Slippin’ Away which really is a perfect snapshot of what I remember the ‘Laurel Canyon Sound’ being like; which shouldn’t be a surprise as it features Al Perkins on pedal-steel, Steve Cropper on lead, vocals by Hillman, Tim Schmit, Herb Pedersen and “Ooooh’s” by Flo & Eddie!
With the benefit of hindsight I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to think this album could have been a template for the first two Eagles albums; especially Witching Hour (by Steve Stills) and Midnight Again which have most certainly stood the test of time.
Obviously this was the time when releasing singles wasn’t deemed ‘cool’ so ace songs like Blue Morning and the forerunner of what us kids think of as ‘Roots Music’ (Take Me In Your) Lifeboat have remained hidden treasures to me until this last 7 days; and I guess a lot of people reading this and buying the album will feel the same way as I do.
While Hillman’s words regarding the follow up Clear Sailin’ describe him ‘turning back the dial to a more traditional style of music;’ I can’t determine a clear difference; apart from the judicious use of a saxaphone on several songs.
Although the Superstar friends had been dispensed with it is still chock full of delicious harmonies from Chris Hillman and Richard Marx (yes….THAT Richard Marx) and some glorious playing from ‘the band’ (John Brennan, Merel Bregante, Skip Edwards and Larry Sims) so the differences are quite marginal; making for a lovely album.
The first song on Clear Sailin’ comes in at #11 on this disc and opens with a roaring Sax solo; Nothing Gets Through sees Hillman and Marx’s voices providing the perfect soundtrack to glorious sunny afternoon.
Quits and Hot Dusty Roads are another two songs that made me think of those early Eagles albums; but also reminded me of a lot of Rootsy albums from the last twenty years; proving the staying power of a classy song.
A big part of me expected these two albums to sound ‘dated’ and that’s patently not the case; with Hillman taking the best of his Burritos back catalogue and tweaking it with 70’s technology on Playing The Fool and Ain’t That Peculiar with both sounding perfect for FM Radio in the 70’s and 80’s but not out of place on the cool Internet shows in 2018.
With 20 songs to choose from picking a favourite is never going to be easy; but one song above all else caught my attention straight away and subsequently my I-Phone has played it 3 or 4 times on random so I’m going for Heartbreaker.
How I’ve never heard this song before defies the laws of music… is brittle, beautiful and as the title suggests…a heart breaker. I can think of a dozen contemporary and feted singers that would give their left arm to have a song like this on one of their records; yet it’s remained tucked away in a box for 40 years……which just shows what a canon of work Chris Hillman has produced over the last half century, when a song; and indeed couple of albums like this have been confined to the history books until now.
Yet again the good people at Omnivore must be congratulated publicly for unearthing another gem from the vaults.
Treat yourself; or better still treat a loved one to this glorious album.
Released February 2018

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