Chris Hillman embraces his roots as fully and completely as his history on his new Tom Petty-produced album Bidin’ My Time. The recording is a virtual tour-de-force from the man who helped begin the Byrds, co-founded the Flying Burrito Brothers with the late Gram Parsons and acted as titular second-in-command to Stephen Stills in Manassas.
Of course, all that’s in keeping with the understated demeanor Hillman’s displayed throughout solo endeavors during which he’s paid more attention to righteously honoring his influences than garnering an audience (forget the David Geffen-orchestrated Souther Hillman and Furay project for a moment). It’s also fair to say this versatile artist has held fair sway over contemporary country music to a great degree too, so it’s no surprise the head man of the Heartbreakers is involved: TP knows more than a little about influences as well as holding a band together, intangible talents perhaps, but ones of which Chris is a past master.
From an artist less unassuming than Hillman, the title of this album might sound disingenuous. But his modest yet authoritative presence as vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and composer echoes with as much perseverance as self-knowledge, no doubt major reasons he could encourage the coalescence of such a broad roster of musicians: Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench participate vigorously here as do Chris’ own former bandmates David Crosby and Roger McGuinn. The presence of the latter, in fact, makes it almost a fait accompli that the most prominent tracks on Bidin’ My Time are culls from the Byrds’ discography.
Nevertheless, Hillman’s choices are anything but predictable. “Bells of Rhymney,” for instance, appeared on the seminal folk-rock unit’s debut album, but hardly in such a somber tone: here it sounds like a cautionary tale for our dislocated times. Originally relegated to a 1965 B-side of a single, “She Don’t Care About Time” appears as a credible recreation of one of the most distinctive sounds in rock, not to mention an affectionate homage to its author, the late (and all-too-often unsung) Gene Clark. Meanwhile, “New Old John Robertson” hearkens to the Byrds’ early pioneering of the country and rock fusion prior to their full-fledged foray into the style (with the late Parsons in tow on Sweetheart of the Rodeo).
The duly-noted executive producer credit to Herb Pedersen here is both notable and significant. His contributions are clearly greater than just playing banjo on that aforementioned excerpt from 1967’s Notorious Byrd Brothers or “When I Get A Little Money;” this long-time collaborator of Hillman’s, on stage and in the studio, no doubt aided tremendously in maintaining the proper balance of sounds throughout the record. As a direct result, Chris’ own understated, acoustic-based originals like “Given All I Can See,” “Different Rivers” and the title song are interspersed among the more high-profile numbers, simultaneously furthering the incorporation of accompaniment from his Desert Rose Band-mates John Jorgenson and Jay Dee Maness; those juxtapositions reaffirm not only the logic and continuity of this record, but Chris Hillman’s entire body of work.
Tom Petty’s own input (and that of his expert sound man Ryan Ulyate who recorded and mixed the record to maintain its warm, informal air) is comparably astute, especially as it extends to closing the record with the title song from the head of the Heartbreakers most personal solo work. In fact, within this particular context, “Wildflowers” sounds like it was written as a direct tribute to Chris Hillman, so its placement at the very end of Bidin’ My Time reaffirms the album as a restatement of his long-abiding intelligence and taste.