Burrito Deluxe was born two years ago when Tommy Spurlock put together a group to record a tribute project to Gram Parsons, founder of the Flying Burrito Brothers and one of the originators of country rock. The group recorded the album Georgia Peach, which was fairly well received. No one could have expected the group to actually become, with a few personnel changes, a real band that would develop its own sound and character. Yet that is precisely what has happened, and The Whole Enchilada is the fruit of that labor.
The band is sheer country rock, shot through with touches of Louisiana swamp rock and swirls of the Americana snapshots that keyboardist Garth Hudson (formerly of The Band) adds to the mix with unbelievable regularity. Singer Carlton Moody has the perfect country rock baritone: capable of both honey-toned beauty and bourbon-scarred roadhouse grit. Sneaky Pete Kleinow, the man who first treated the pedal steel as a rock instrument, thereby defining the sound of country rock pedal steel, recording with such artists as Little Feat, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, and Joe Cocker as well as many others. Holding things down are drummer Rick Lonow, who has worked with Johnny Cash and bassist Jeff “Stick” Davis, a former member of the Amazing Rhythm Aces.
In short, this band is what used to be called a “supergroup”, one made up of key members of other bands. Very often such projects sound better on paper than in the studio, but the Burritos have a secret weapon — it’s been more than 35 years since some of these musicians first appeared on the scene and made their names with these bands. Their veteran status ups the ante for two reasons: first, it means that they have an incredible amount of experience and a lifetime of playing music in various settings on which to draw; and second, it defies those who would have written these guys off as having nothing new or vital to offer. The fact is, the members of Burrito Deluxe have pulled off the improbable task of coming together and sounding like a real band because, quite simply, they are the real thing. It is for this reason that The Whole Enchilada shows most of what passes for country music these days up for the pale marketing product that it is. The album has the ring of truth because not only does the band play incredibly well, but also because of their selection of material, which is a selection of some of the finest songwriters working in country, rock, or other popular music genres around. The likelihood, though, is that many listeners will have not heard most of these songs before, providing a whole new musical vista for those who are lured by the songs found here.
The opener, “You Got Gold”, is a John Prine song culled from his 1991 album The Missing Years. The album won Prine a Grammy, and this song is the perfect leadoff gambit for the Burritos. It highlights Moody’s vocal stylings immediately, and then gently introduces the lonesome sound of Sneaky Pete’s pedal steel and Hudson’s Roger Whittaker-esque Nashville piano. “The Letter,” a song defined by the Boxtops’ number one hit and later reinterpreted by Joe Cocker, gets yet another fine spin as the band moves it from rock territory into a more definite country groove. “Woman Like You” is a new number credited to the entire group, and at first seems a little awkward, but it builds into its own beautiful thing on the back of some nice guitar touches by Moody and a winding organ solo by Hudson. Sneaky Pete is featured on his own composition, “Sister,” a gorgeous instrumental. One can imagine driving the highways of America with this lonely, melancholy tune playing from the car’s speakers. It speaks of late-afternoon sun and shadows, easing into the dusk as you pull into a local motel for the night.
The mood changes abruptly with Matt King’s “Ezekial’s Wheel,” a Southern gothic that mixes the familiar elements of religious fanaticism, violence, and a touch of whiskey. The song rocks heartily and demonstrates the sparks that this band can work up live, where their sound is just a bit less genteel than on this CD. King toured with the band on the last leg of their American tour this summer, and often performed the song with them as well as being the opening act. The band also indulges a love of Cajun and other Louisiana styles with “Zydeco Ball,” co-written by Moody and Ramblin Jack Elliiot and featuring Garth on both piano and accordian and “Baton Rouge” a song by Guy Clark that is as comfortable as an old, favorite pair of shoes. Alligator shoes, according to the song. They also take on Merle Haggard’s “Way Back in the Mountains”, Richard Ferreira’s “Memphis Money”, Mark Germino’s hilarious “Rex Bob Lowenstein”, and a pair of Amazing Rhythm Aces songs: “All I Had Left (Left With You)” from 1978’s Burning The Ballroom Down and “The Last Letter Home”, a beautiful song co-written by deceased Aces drummer Butch McDade. And for good measure is a new Carlton Moody song, “Everywhere I Go”, which has the perfect balance of Louisiana and Texas rock stylings.
In short, there is a lot to listen to on this CD, as the band applies their musical talent to material that is truly the cream of the crop. The Whole Enchilada is an adult-sized portion that should appeal to fans of country, rock, and other American roots genres. Pass the hot sauce!!!