One year ago this month, the Red Dragon Listening Room in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, brought Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen to sing in front of a sold out crowd. With their harmonies and Hillman’s mandolin magic, it was a show you couldn’t imagine being any better. Well, on Wednesday night it got better.
With Hillman releasing a beautiful solo album, Bidin’ My Time, under the guidance of Tom Petty’s production back in September, Hillman and Pedersen came back to the Red Dragon last week, 11/08/17, except this time they brought along former Desert Rose Band guitar player John Jorgenson and literally spellbound another sold out audience. You could say it was a musical harmonic convergence as they sang poignant songs with angel’s breath harmonies and lilting stringed instruments. In a music world full of noise, sometimes it’s the whispers that hit us the most.
Opening with “The Bells Of Rhymney” from Bidin’ My Time, which they dedicated to Petty, Hillman echoed the words of a Welsh poet as adapted by late folksinger Pete Seeger and recorded by his former band The Byrds back in 1965. That was followed by the title track of the new album, with Jorgenson on mandolin and Hillman and Pedersen on acoustic guitars. For the third song, the gentlemen revisited their Desert Rose Band heyday with “Love Reunited,” with Hillman strapping on the mandolin for the first time that evening.
Comparing the setlists for this show and the 2016 one, only a few songs were repeated – such as “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “If I Could Only Win Your Love,” and “Wait A Minute” – allowing returning fans to feast on a platter full of different songs. Hillman’s new record was represented with eleven of it’s twelve songs while Pedersen showcased several songs from his Dillards days. Jorgenson, a two-time winner of the Academy Of Country Music’s Guitarist Of The Year Award, shone like a new penny on solos during “Walk Right Back,” “Eight Miles High” and Buck Owens’ “Together Again;” as well as taking lead vocals on the Gene Clark penned “Set You Free,” electric piano on “Restless” and “Different Rivers,” and mandolin on “Bidin’ My Time,” “Wildflowers” and “When I Get A Little Money.”
Although Hillman is known for his mastery of the mandolin, he switched to acoustic guitar for several songs, The Byrds “She Don’t Care About Time” and the beautiful “Restless,” among them. But Pedersen also needs to be given his due. An excellent guitarist in his own right, he is the foundation the others feed off of and his harmonies are the perfect blend with the gentlemen standing beside him.
The show was opened by Clay Parker and Jodi James, a local duo of singer/songwriters who have six solo records between them and one together. With wonderful harmonies themselves, they tend to bring realistic storytelling into their music, from “Katie’s Blues” to their “hippie number,” “Down To The Garden,” to the excellently-delivered emotion-hitting “Far Away.” They will have a new record coming out early in 2018 so for those who are looking for some new music to add to their playlists, these are your sure-bets.
Calling themselves “small fish in a big pond,” Parker proclaimed Hillman, Pedersen and Jorgenson, “the dudes that like dug the pond.” It is a fitting description for three monumental performers who touched the lives of many would-be musicians, a few who even took the trio’s influences and built their own legacies – like Tom Petty, who has for years been very vocal about his love for The Byrds and Herb Pedersen, who played with Petty. In fact, if it wasn’t for Petty and Pedersen, Hillman may not have gone into a studio to record his most heartfelt music to date.
Highlights included a rendition of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Sin City,” a song Hillman said was written in 1969 when he was sharing a room with Gram Parsons and was basically “a song about hippies;” “When I Get A Little Money,” a “sweet innocent love song” on Bidin’ My Time; “Here She Comes Again,” written by Hillman and Roger McGuinn that was never recorded with The Byrds but which Hillman recorded with Petty’s Heartbreakers for the new album; “Eight Miles High” soared with unbelievable harmonies and a hot Hillman mandolin/Jorgenson guitar solo; the country-flavored “Restless;” Petty’s “Wildflowers;” and the quietly moving “Heaven’s Lullaby,” which wrapped up one of the most enjoyable evenings of the year so far.
SETLIST: The Bells Of Rhymney, Bidin’ My Time, Love Reunited, Given All I Can See, Turn Turn Turn, If I Could Only Win Your Love, Walk Right Back, Sin City, She Don’t Care About Time, Eight Miles High, Set You Free, When I Get A Little Money, She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune, Different Rivers, Wildflowers, Restless, Hey Boys, Together Again, Such Is The World That We Live In, Wait A Minute, Here She Comes Again. ENCORE: Heaven’s Lullaby.