The Coal Porters

Chris Hillman Tribute Concerts

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Given his enthusiasm for both the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, it's no wonder that author and musician Sid Griffin is a big fan of Chris Hillman, who was a major figure in both groups; Hillman was also the leader of the Desert Rose Band and is a superb bluegrass instrumentalist, not to mention a sideman who's worked with more fine musicians than you can shake a stick at. Given his background, it wouldn't be hard at all to put together an album's worth of great tunes Mr. Hillman has been involved with in some way, and Sid Griffin has capably proved it with this disc, which compiles performances from several Hillman tribute concerts Griffin has staged (he traditionally plays one every year on Hillman's birthday). The Chris Hillman Tribute Concerts features Griffin and the latest lineup of his band the Coal Porters playing in acoustic, bluegrass-influenced style, and given Hillman's sympathies for acoustic music, it makes sense that these songs all work quite well in that format, even the one that was originally written and performed by electric rock bands ("Draft Morning" and "Time Between," both written by Hillman during his tenure in the Byrds, sound especially strong in this context). And if the bluegrass edition of the Coal Porters isn't quite up to the level of, say, the Del McCoury Band, they play with a skill and conviction that outstrips the vast majority of rock bands who've decided to pick up acoustic instruments, and the arrangements at once honor their sources and put a distinctive spin on the Porters' approach. The Chris Hillman Tribute Concerts is a thoroughly enjoyable disc that presents 17 great songs played with heart, soul, and skill; it's a fan's gesture in the best sense of the word.

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