Desert Rose Band MIM Concert Review

By Alan Rockman

It’s been said that former Byrd and Flying Burrito Brother Chris Hillman never made a bad record. The name Chris Hillman, in both Rock and Country music circles, has always been synonymous with quality control. I've have had the pleasure of knowing Chris Hillman for 20 years, and I not only agree with that statement, I can also say that I have never attended a Chris Hillman concert, whether it be a solo performance, with Herb Pederson, or with the Desert Rose Band, that has not been exceptionally good. Simply put, Hillman always comes through with an outstanding show. And July’s Desert Rose Band Unplugged performance at the world-famous Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix exceeded expectations.

Desert Rose Band - photo by Joe Atlas Photography

The Desert Rose Band, consisting of Chris Hillman, Herb Pedersen, John Jorgenson and Bill Bryson, connected with the audience, and to paraphrase the lyrics of an old Flying Burrito Brothers song Hillman co-wrote with Gram Parsons, "took it home right away". The choice selection of songs covered Hillman’s more than 50-years in American music, from the Byrds up through the Desert Rose Band (sorry folks, the Flying Burrito Brothers era was conspicuous by its absence) and Hillman delivered with a compelling and familiar voice that captivated and captured the 300-seat sold out audience. Despite battling our dry and extremely hot weather (which actually knocked out Dwight Yoakam several months ago at another venue) Hillman’s powerful, emotive and friendly voice kept the audience enthralled. Songs like "Summer Wind", "She Don't Love Nobody", "Leave This Town", "Love Reunited", "Turn, Turn, Turn", "Bells of Rhymney" and "Eight Miles High" (the latter three were originally Roger McGuinn leads in the Byrds but McGuinn’s "younger musical brother" has long since made his own mark on them) resonated with the crowd.

The spotlight wasn't on Hillman alone, as great as he is as the lead singer and leader of this band. Desert Rose Band Unplugged is comprised of four veteran musicians, each of whom brings something unique to the musical table and the equal parts make the sum. Hillman has always been known as a "talent scout" who could pick the best and brightest in American Rock and Country to play beside him. Back in the Byrds it was Hillman who advocated bringing in Clarence White and Gram Parsons. Hillman also cultivated the friendships, as a teen, of both Pedersen and Bernie Leadon. He also brought Leadon into the Flying Burrito Brothers before Leadon soared to higher lofts. As with White, Leadon and Al Perkins, three of the very best guitar pickers America has ever given birth to, so it was with the multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist John Jorgenson. And ironically, Jorgenson himself is now cultivating a new generation of Country pickers, including his friend Brad Paisley. Jorgenson had played in a few L.A. based Country Rock bands including Cheatin' Hearts, where he played alongside future Desert Rose Band members Bill Bryson and Steve Duncan. Jorgenson had been performing in the Bluegrass band in Disneyland when Hillman sought him out in the mid 1980’s for his new Desert Rose Band project.

Jorgenson is a MIM favorite. As MIM’s artist-in-residence, he is probably better known at MIM for his skillful and sensitive Gypsy Jazz playing. But it was with the Desert Rose Band where he really cut his musical teeth, then going on to Elton John’s band for several years around the turn of the new century. Already known as a world-class guitarist, Jorgenson did all of the lead acoustic frills during the concert, and wowed the audience with a superb mandolin solo on "Time Between." That song was Hillman's very first song with the Byrds, which he dusted off for the Desert Rose Band 20 years later. Jorgenson proved too, to be a first-rate lead vocalist, delivering confident versions of Parson’s "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" era "One Hundred Years From Now", and Gene Clark's "Set You Free This Time".

Then there's Herb Pedersen, Hillman's longtime musical partner and friend from the time both were 18-year-old post-teens playing the folk clubs of Southern California. Pederson’s golden tenor has graced the albums and recordings of so many greats from Linda Ronstadt and John Denver through Martina McBride, Emmylou Harris, Don Henley (who wanted him to replace Bernie Leadon in the Eagles), his old friend Vince Gill, and of course the Dillards and the Desert Rose Band. Many in the crowd were expecting to hear what this reviewer considers to be his very best solo song, "The Hey Boys", and Pederson delivered the goods. Pederson was also featured on "Wait A Minute", the signature song he wrote so long ago as a member of The Dillards, as well as on "Hello Trouble", the Buck Owens song he always sang in the Desert Rose Band. Speaking of the late Mr. Owens, who was a longtime friend of both Hillman and Pederson, they paid a duo tribute to him with their rendition of "Together Again". Always solid, sometimes very funny but always dependable, Pedersen scored with his harmonies and Rhythm Guitar.

And finally, the "quiet man" of the band, Bill Bryson. He is a veteran picker and Bass Man of so many great Country Rock and Bluegrass outfits, like N.D. Crowe and the New South and the famed Country Gazette. Bryson always provides the steady musical backbone and great harmonies. Bryson is a fine vocalist too, in his own right, and in bands like the Brombies and Loafer's Glory, At the Desert Rose Band concert, Bryson was featured singing lead on Tom Paxton's classic, "The Last Thing On My Mind". Bryson has constantly toured and played with both Hillman and Pederson for the last three decades, and when I say he provides the backbone, well, that's who and what he is with the Desert Rose Band; the true backbone of this great band.

The Desert Rose Band closed their superlative 1 and 3/4 hour set with a crowd favorite and yet another one of their number one Country hits, "One Step Forward” and left the stage to a rousing standing ovation. The band then returned to the stage to deliver a heartfelt tribute to Arizona’s Yarnell Firefighters and their families, with Hillman's sweet "Heaven's Lullaby". Always a class act, and not just musically, Hillman, Pedersen, Jorgenson and Bryson came out front, signing autographs and chatting with fans until the very last members of the audience went home. Here's hoping MIM brings them back soon again - in cooler weather to be sure!

July 28, 2013

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