Classic Rock Review

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Gram Parsons & the Fallen Angels Live 1973 (1982)

From Jellyroll.com

Gold disk reissue of a live broadcast gem.

First the facts. Gram Parsons, easily the most influential artist of the country-rock era, had a relatively brief career from the late 1960s until he died from a drug overdose in September 1973. After his work with the Byrds culminated in the superb Sweetheart of the Rodeo LP, he moved on to lead one of the early incarnations of the Flying Burrito Brothers, and produced two wonderful solo albums, GP and Grievous Angel. This gold-plated CD (also available in regular silver) is a re-release of an LP from a March 1973 radio concert from the tour promoting the GP album. The selections form a continuum from traditional country gospel, to the ’60s Nashville of Tom T. Hall and Merle Haggard, the truck stop rock of “Six Days on the Road,” and on into an encore of Chuck Berry and “Bony Moronie.”

But facts alone can’t do justice to the sweet, naive recorded presence he left behind. On his two studio works and in this live performance, his voice blends with a barely discovered Emmylou Harris in a wonderful, soaring harmony. One of their best pieces is “Love Hurts,” the Boudleaux Bryant classic previously recorded by Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers. The perfection of the Grievous Angel version begs the question of how many takes were required. Here, they nail it live. The stately, steadily building arrangement is heartbreaking on its own accord, compounded by the fiery intensity of their partnership. Over twenty years later, Harris still features a Parsons tune on most albums and concerts. Love hurts, indeed.

The live radio format is a bit constraining, as evidenced by the too-abrupt kickoff of the opening track, “We’ll Sweep out the Ashes.” In fact, it takes a while for the whole endeavor to get rolling, although that sense diminishes on repeated listening. This CD restores some material that didn’t fit on the original release, notably some chatter between songs. The patter gives you a sense of the conflicts between the country boy and the New York City deejay hosting the show, but it sure would be nice if you could slip the CD into a no-talk mode after the first or second listening. This release also adds a closing rock-n-roll medley, remarkable for its joyous approach and concise presentation-no flashy guitar solos, no sing-alongs, and all wrapped up in under six minutes.

Although much of the material itself is timeless, the performance is definitely of an era. Emmylou Harris, clearly a partner here, is referred to as “that girl you’re hearing.” The drumming is particularly lame, and still too loud even in the re-mix. And the pedal steel is played in the overly weepy style in vogue with contemporary country rock bands. Despite these minor gripes, the album is a fine legacy of a very enjoyable concert.

Looking around at the current crop of country stars, it’s hard to remember a time when a youngster so in love with country tradition would be shunned by the Grand Ole Opry because he was a no-good long-haired hippie freak. Today, photos of him seem prematurely angelic, his young face still round with baby fat and framed by dark bangs and a shoulder-length shag. At the time, however, his pioneering Nashville work with the Byrds was not well-received by the country establishment, and he and Roger McGuinn wrote “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man” (also performed here) as a response to some of it. The Byrds’ version is bitter, and the vocals sound a bit drunken. The much more effective version recorded here is slower, and sounds more like the mournful ballad of a jilted lover.

Somewhere in Joshua Tree National Monument, there’s a succulent yucca that stands just a little bit taller, with flowers just a bit sweeter than the rest, nurtured by the ashes of Gram Parsons. It’s hard to crank up too much sympathy for the indulgent rock star who succumbs because of too much poison stuck up his nose or shot into his veins, but occasionally there’s an artist whose passing leaves us all a bit poorer. Gram Parsons was clearly one of those artists, a talented young man with a sweet voice who has left us an all too brief recorded history. This live recording makes a fine addition to that catalog.

This concert was part of a great series of live in-studio concerts broadcast in the early 1970s from WLIR, an FM station just outside New York City on Long Island. WLIR was easily the best commercial radio found in the New York area during that era, less popular and more experimental than the already pretentious and stodgy WNEW. I was a frequent listener, but for some reason missed the remarkable concert captured on this disc. If my memory and this set are any indication, there’s a gold mine of other performances sitting in the WLIR vaults, an American version of the John Peel sessions. – Bill Kuhn

Jason Staczek says… This record may be a find for veteran Gram fans, but newcomers (like me) are better off starting with the 2-on-1 CD GP/Grievous Angel (WEA/Warner Brothers 7599 26108 2). It hasn’t been out of my CD player since I got it. It would almost be worth picking up just to hear Buddy Emmons’ extraordinary pedal steel playing. If Gram, Emmylou and Buddy don’t do it for you, I don’t want to hear about it.
Glenn Brooks says… Yes, it’s a gold CD, and yes, it sounds pretty good. Better yet, it is still available from Sierra on vinyl LP, at just $7 (half the price of the CD) and better sound, in my opinion.

A small correction… Nick Spitzer, in his fine radio show, American Routes, said Gram was buried in New Orleans and not in the Joshua Tree National Monument. I did a little research at the invaluable Find A Grave web site, and learned that while Nick was right, an informal desert cremation did take place. Find A Grave has the details.
performers

Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Neil Flanz, N. D. Smart, Kyle Tullis, Jock Barkley

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Gram Parsons Live 1973 | | Leave a comment