Chris Hillman (left) and Herb Pedersen: in a moment to treasure, their songs plant themselves anew in our lives.

Of Reflection, Rumination and Celebration
By David McGee

Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen
Rounder Records

Famously reticent in interviews, the legendary figure that is Chris Hillman is plenty voluble when he gets onstage and starts singing and playing some of the best bluegrass and country music anyone plays anywhere, any hour, any day. Want to know how formidable Chris Hillman is? Back in the early ‘70s a Rolling Stone writer observed as to how every record Hillman had played on was a good record, sometimes a great record. At the time that statement was made, Hillman’s professional resume included only The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. More than three decades later, in September 2010 as this is written, the same assertion could be made, and now it would include Hillman’s tenures with Manassas, the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, McGuinn, Clark & Hillman, McGuinn/Hillman, Ever Call Ready, the Desert Rose Band, Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen and a duet with Pedersen (his friend of nearly half a century and Desert Rose Band compadre), as well as half a dozen solo albums, beginning with 1976’s Slippin’ Away. As a singer, he’s long since proven himself one of the most emotionally affecting of his generation; as a musician, he’s a frighteningly virtuosic multi-instrumentalist (John Jorgenson, another Desert Rose Band mate and masterful guitarist, makes no bones about being in awe of Hillman’s instrumental prowess—so there); and as a songwriter he’s penned (often co-written, to be precise) so many memorable melodies and beautiful lyrics, why, there oughta be a law, y’know?

Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen, ‘Turn, Turn, Turn,’ July 11, 2008, at Frontier Park for the City of Olathe Summer Concert Series, Olathe, KS.

This is but prelude—essential, but prelude nonetheless—to yet another Hillman showcase of mind boggling proportions—At Edwards Barn, a scintillating teaming with Pederson before a live audience assembled this past November in Nipomo, CA, as part of the duo’s annual benefit concert for the building fund of the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation of Santa Maria, California, and the Gobezie-Goshu Home for the Elderly in Adwa, Ethiopia. Appropriately, it is an occasion for reflection, rumination and celebration: reflection on the spiritual quest, in the form of stirring spirituals (opening with a profound, somber reading of Ralph Stanley’s song of salvation, “Going Up Home”—an occasion also for chilling four-part southern gospel harmonizing and simply beautiful fiddle and mandolin work by, respectively, David Mansfield, and, yes, Hillman himself; and including a subdued testimonial of grace and redemption penned by Hillman and Steve Hill, “Our Savior’s Hands” and closing with one of the most spiritual songs he’s ever penned [again with Steve Hill], the tender beauty called “Heaven’s Lullabye,” a warm, comforting reminder of the invisible guiding hand providing safe passage through a troubled world, summarized in one of the most exquisite choruses Hillman has set his own hand to: “The whole world stops when you shed a tear/then a rainbow will appear/all the angels up on high/sing a Heaven’s lullabye”); rumination on the awesome power of love in about as tuneful a fashion as you could ever ask—try the ebullient spirits of the Desert Rose Band’s soaring “Love Reunited” (Hillman-Hill, again); or the Louvin Brothers’ vow of enduring affection articulated from the point of deepest longing in “If I Could Only Win Your Love”; or a close-harmonized and countrified version of the first song he ever wrote for The Byrds, the under-rated “Have You Seen Her Face,” here without Roger McGuinn’s stinging guitar but with a solid, bouncy, all-acoustic arrangement and Pedersen singing a lovely high harmony to Hillman’s sturdy, assertive tenor (Mansfield gets a star turn again on fiddle, adding a sizzling solo towards the end); and Pedersen’s own well-turned original, “Wait a Minute,” about a familiar subject—a musician on the road, away from his loved ones—but with a fresh perspective in its expression of the persistent ache of memory as the days roll on; and celebration: of a wide swath cut through contemporary American music, in the form of reimagined, country-inflected and evocatively harmonized renditions of 20th Century landmarks in song bearing a Hillman sound signature, such as “Eight Miles High” and “Turn, Turn, Turn” (neither a Hillman copyright), two Flying Burrito Brothers stone classics co-written with Gram Parsons (the apocalyptic visions of “Sin City” rendered bluegrass-style and an alternately lilting and keening “Wheels”), and a nod to an artist Hillman identifies as “a mentor to us—without him there wouldn’t have been a Byrds, or a Flying Burrito Brothers, or a Dillards,” meaning of course Buck Owens, remembered with a nuanced, intense reading of “Together Again,” further recommended for the emotional, moving instrumental solos by Hillman (mandolin), Mansfield (fiddle) and Larry Park (guitar) in quick succession.

So there it is—decades later, and another wonderful Chris Hillman record, with an essential assist from Herb Pedersen and an exemplary band to boot. Consider this: you may have heard most if not all these tunes before, the original recordings (or even other Hillman-Pedersen versions—it’s not like this was their first concert together or the first captured on record) may well have a deserved special place in your hearts and memories, but you have not heard them exactly as you will hear them here. Thus do the songs plant themselves anew in our lives. At Edwards Barn is a moment to treasure.

At Edwards Barn is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024