The Dillards – Wheatstraw Suite

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  • Stunning sound for this original Elektra Gold Label pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades and playing as quietly as these early pressings ever do
  • This is a SHOCKINGLY well recorded album, full of Tubey Magic and as relaxed, smooth and natural as any record from 1968 has a right to be
  • 4 1/2 stars: “It never got any better than this… 13 all-but-perfect tracks… this is a finer rural/rock fusion album than Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the first Flying Burrito Brothers album, or the Beau Brummels’ efforts during this same period, and an indispensable part of any collection of ’60s music.”

This vintage Elektra Gold Label pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1968
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We Listen For on Wheatstraw Suite

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

I’ll Fly Away
Nobody Knows
Hey Boys
The Biggest Whatever
Listen To The Sound
Little Pete
Reason To Believe

Side Two

Single Saddle
I’ve Just Seen A Face
Lemon Chimes
Don’t You Cry
Bending The Strings
She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune

AMG Review

It never got any better than this. In 1968, as the Byrds were making valiant (if unappreciated) efforts to bring rock and country music closer together, the Dillards were trying to do some of the same for bluegrass and rock. The result was 13 all-but-perfect tracks mixing some pretty laid-back topicality (“Hey Boys”) and humor (“The Biggest Whatever”), cowboy songs (“Single Saddle,” which Gene Autry should have covered), just plain gorgeous poetry (“Lemon Chimes”), and a couple of unexpected covers (“I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “Reason to Believe”), with arrangements that exude a delicate, subdued lushness (“Listen to the Sound”) and an element of electric rock (courtesy of Joe Osborn on electric bass and Jim Gordon on drums) that worked perfectly. In many ways, this is a finer rural/rock fusion album than Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the first Flying Burrito Brothers album, or the Beau Brummels’ efforts during this same period, and an indispensable part of any collection of ’60s music.

Artist Biography by Steve Huey

One of the leading lights of progressive bluegrass in the ’60s, the Dillards played a major part in modernizing and popularizing the sound of bluegrass, and were also an underappreciated influence on country-rock. The group was founded by brothers Doug (banjo) and Rodney Dillard (guitar), who grew up in Salem, Missouri, playing music together. During the late ’50s, they appeared often on local radio and performed with several different area bands, including the Hawthorn Brothers, the Lewis Brothers, and the Dixie Ramblers; they also recorded a couple of singles for the St. Louis-based K-Ark label as the Dillard Brothers in 1958.

In 1960, they decided to form their own group, recruiting DJ pal Mitch Jayne on bass, as well as mandolin player Dean Webb. Christening themselves the Dillards, the quartet decided to move to Los Angeles in 1962, and were quickly signed to Elektra after being discovered at a gig with the Greenbriar Boys. Not long after, the group landed a recurring role on The Andy Griffith Show, appearing in several episodes over the next few years as a musically inclined hillbilly family called the Darlings.

Back Porch Bluegrass

Meanwhile, the Dillards released their debut album, Back Porch Bluegrass, in 1963, and also teamed up with Glen Campbell and Tut Taylor for the side project the Folkswingers, who went on to release two albums. the Dillards’ second album, 1964’s concert set Live! Almost!, captured their controversial move into amplified electric instruments, which was considered heresy by many bluegrass purists; they also began to tour with rock groups, most notably the Byrds.

In response to purist criticism, the group followed Live! Almost! in 1965 with the more traditional Pickin’ & Fiddlin’, which featured co-billing for fiddler Byron Berline. Dissatisfied with the way Elektra was marketing them, the Dillards switched labels to Capitol, but found a similar lack of kindred spirits in the producers they worked with there, and wound up returning to Elektra without releasing an album.

Meanwhile, Doug and Rodney were increasingly at odds over the group’s creative direction, with Rodney pursuing a more radical break with tradition than Doug. Doug moonlighted in the backing band for ex-Byrd Gene Clark’s groundbreaking collaboration with the Gosdin Brothers, and after he and Rodney recorded some material for the Bonnie & Clyde film soundtrack in 1967, he decided to leave the Dillards and strike out on his own.

Wheatstraw Suite

Doug soon teamed up with Gene Clark as Dillard & Clark and recorded some highly regarded material before starting a solo career that remained productive through the ’70s. Rodney, meanwhile, replaced his brother with banjoist Herb Pedersen, and the Dillards recorded what many critics regard as their masterwork, Wheatstraw Suite. Released in 1968, the album displayed Rodney’s progressive eclecticism in full cry, featuring fuller instrumentation and covers of the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe.” Though it wasn’t a hit, critics and musicians praised its unpredictable mix of bluegrass, country, folk, rock, and pop.

Released in 1970, Copperfields took a similarly adventurous approach, and drummer Paul York became an official member of the group. Unfortunately, Elektra was still somewhat mystified by their music, and they parted ways again. Pedersen departed in 1972 to join Byron Berline’s band, Country Gazette, and was replaced by Billy Ray Latham; by this time, the Dillards had signed with the smaller Anthem label, where they landed their only charting pop hit, “It’s About Time,” in 1971.

An opening slot on tour with Elton John in 1972 helped Roots & Branches become their biggest-selling album to date, but the group subsequently switched over to the Poppy label for their follow-up, 1973’s country-rock effort Tribute to the American Duck.

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