By 1969, Gram Parsons had already built the foundation of the country-rock movement through his work with the International Submarine Band and the Byrds, but his first album with the Flying Burrito Brothers, The Gilded Palace of Sin, was where he revealed the full extent of his talents, and it ranks among the finest and most influential albums the genre would ever produce. As a songwriter, Parsons delivered some of his finest work on this set; “Hot Burrito No. 1” and “Hot Burrito No. 2” both blend the hurt of classic country weepers with a contemporary sense of anger, jealousy, and confusion, and “Sin City” can either be seen as a parody or a sincere meditation on a city gone mad, and it hits home in both contexts. Parsons was rarely as strong as a vocalist as he was here, and his covers of “Dark End of the Street” and “Do Right Woman” prove just how much he had been learning from R&B as well as C&W. And Parsons was fortunate enough to be working with a band who truly added to his vision, rather than simply backing him up; the distorted swoops of Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s fuzztone steel guitar provides a perfect bridge between country and psychedelic rock, and Chris Hillman’s strong and supportive harmony vocals blend flawlessly with Parsons’ (and he also proved to be a valuable songwriting partner, collaborating on a number of great tunes with Gram). While The Gilded Palace of Sin barely registered on the pop culture radar in 1969, literally dozens of bands (the Eagles most notable among them) would find inspiration in this music and enjoy far greater success. But no one ever brought rock and country together quite like the Flying Burrito Brothers, and this album remains their greatest accomplishment.
Gram Parsons had a habit of taking over whatever band he happened to be working with, and on the first three albums on which he appeared — the International Submarine Band’s Safe at Home, the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and the Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace of Sin — he became the focal point, regardless of the talent of his compatriots. Burrito Deluxe, the Burritos’ second album, is unique in Parsons’ repertoire in that it’s the only album where he seems to have deliberately stepped back to make more room for others; whether this was due to Gram’s disinterest in a band he was soon to leave, or if he was simply in an unusually democratic frame of mind is a matter of debate. But while it is hardly a bad album, it’s not nearly as striking as The Gilded Palace of Sin. Parsons didn’t deliver many noteworthy originals for this set, with “Cody, Cody” and “Older Guys” faring best but paling next to the highlights from the previous album (though he was able to wrangle the song “Wild Horses” away from his buddy Keith Richards and record it a year before the Rolling Stones’ version would surface). And while the band sounds tight and they play with genuine enthusiasm, there’s a certain lack of focus in these performances; the band’s frontman sounds as if his thoughts are often elsewhere, and the other players can’t quite compensate for him, though on tunes like “God’s Own Singer” and a cover of Bob Dylan’s “If You Gotta Go,” they gamely give it the old college try. Burrito Deluxe is certainly a better than average country-rock album, but coming from the band who made the genre’s most strongly defining music, it’s something of a disappointment.
-Mark Deming, allmusic.com