Classic Rock Review

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Gram Parsons Grievous Angel (1973)


Hanging out with Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones had taken its toll on Gram. He was down, and nearly out, his nerves shot by alcohol and his career drifting. Chris Hillman, former band-mate in both The Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers conspired to introduce Gram to Emmylou Harris. There was an instant spark when they sang together, and it gave Gram a renewed sense of conviction – leading ultimately to the recording of ‘GP’ and its follow-up, ‘Grievous Angel’.

Gram Parsons had been born into money. So, when Warners turned down his request of hiring three members of the Elvis Presley touring band, he simply paid for their session fees himself. It’s pertinent to remember, Gram had no real public profile and had sold a negligible quantity of records. Being born into money gave him license to almost do as he pleased.

Roger McGuinn of The Byrds once remarked that when Gram joined as David Crosby’s replacement ‘it was almost like Mick Jagger had joined The Byrds!’. But, Gram was bitter. He’d played a pivotal role through his work with The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers in starting ‘Country-Rock’ only to see the likes of The Eagles reap the commercial fortunes he felt should have been his.

‘GP’ sounds very accomplished musically thanks to the team of top session players Gram had recruited. The real sparks come from the vocals of both Gram and Emmylou, and of course, the songs themselves. Whether the quiver and frailty in some of Grams vocals here really was down to his alcohol abuse, or for other reason – it gives these songs, especially the ballad performances, a huge emotionally resonating quality.

‘Still Feeling Blue’ makes good use of Byron Berline’s fiddle playing as well as featuring attractive Pedal Steel work. It’s a fast-paced song, very celebratory in musical feeling and with Emmylou joining Gram in the chorus parts. ‘We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning’ features slightly wayward Parsons vocals – and it becomes very easy to believe listening to this that his alcohol abuse was part of the reason. Emmylou joins him here throughout the song, pretty much singing co-lead. In fact, she sings far better on this song than Gram himself, but when they do sing together, it sounds pretty nice.

A far better song than ‘We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes’ arrives with Grams own ‘A Song For You’. This is where his quivering, frail voice works to best effect, very tender and emotional. Emmylou sings harmony, and the whole song is utterly gorgeous. ‘Streets Of Baltimore’ is one of several covers here, and perfectly well done but lacks the extra sparkle of Grams own compositions. ‘She’ is another spine-chilling ballad, this time with a stupendous Parsons vocal full of emotion.

The lyrics are evocative with mentions of ‘delta sun’ and ‘she sure could sing’ over the top of beautifully understated, perfectly appropriate musical parts. ‘That’s All It Took’ is the kind of hokey country tune Elvis Presley might have performed. It’s not very entertaining, although perfectly well performed. ‘The New Soft Shoe’ is another Parsons original, and sounds like many of his songs, totally other worldy and beautiful – more affecting vocals here in particular. ‘Kiss The Children’ opens with some entertaining fiddle playing, great little pure country guitar parts and is a fun, less serious song. ‘Cry One More Time’ is a little blues, rather strained and breaking the mood of the album a little.

‘How Much I’ve Lied’ contains more accomplished playing, the closing ‘Big Mouth Blues’ a little funky country blues, although like ‘Cry One More Time’ doesn’t sound at all matched to some of the other material here, the Gram Parsons originals in particular.

April 27, 2013 Posted by | Gram Parsons Grievous Angel | | 1 Comment