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Gram Parsons The Complete Reprise Sessions (2006)

complete repriseAs I’ve studied the “genre” of Americana, read books on the subject and listened to the music, more than anyone else the name of Gram Parsons is mentioned. I’ve come to the conclusion that Parsons is to Americana – country rock, alt-country – what Hank Williams is to “traditional” country music. He was a brilliant songwriter and stellar performer, writing scores of beloved songs and spawning an entirely new genre. He also managed to kill himself with drugs and drink before his 30th birthday.

GP

The three-disc collection begins with Gram Parsons’ first solo album, GP. In the year between first discussing the idea with Keith Richards and actually beginning recording, Parsons made the discovery of the girl singer he’d been looking for, a young woman named Emmylou Harris. At long last, with producer Rik Grech and backed by Elvis Presley’s touring band (including James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, and Ronnie Tutt), recording finally began.

The album that resulted from those sessions remains a magnificent slice of what they called “country rock” in those days; in listening, it’s hard to believe this wasn’t always as pure country as country can get. Parsons himself says he doesn’t understand why people have to sub-catagorize music; if it’s good, it’s good. And this album is good. With songs as diverse as “Streets of Baltimore” and “We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes in the Morning,” as well as Parsons’ own songs, sung in Parsons’ sweet tenor with Emmylou’s distinctive soprano, it can’t help but be a constant joy.

The re-issue here comes with seven bonus tracks, including rare interviews and live performances of “Sin City” and “Love Hurts.” An amazing album, doubly astounding when considering that Parsons was only 25 years old at the time.

Grievous Angel

Parsons followed up his beautiful debut solo album with the equally stunning Grievous Angel, an album which deserves a place alongside other great country albums. Parsons wrote nearly every song on Grievous Angel, throwing in the lament “Love Hurts,” as well as Tom T. Hall’s “I Can’t Dance” and the Louvin Brothers’ “Cash on the Barrelhead.” Of course, a great deal of amazing country music was being recorded at this time under the heading of “country rock,” and in that arena Parsons was in grand company, as well.

Again with duet-mate Emmylou Harris, each song is finely crafted, a superlative study in the exact way duets should be performed. Harris and Parsons were an exquisite pair, unmatched in any genre of music before or since, their voices perfectly suited as they wove together on such songs as “Hearts on Fire” and the heart-wrenching “In My Hour of Darkness,” one of the most amazing songs I think I’ve ever heard.

I admit despite having known the Burritos and the Byrds, as well as the name of Gram Parsons, for years, I’d never listened to these two albums before, and I’ve been blown away. There are three bonus tracks on this disc, including one instrumental and two interviews.

March 1, 2013 Posted by | Gram Parsons The Complete Reprise Sessions | | Leave a comment

Gram Parsons The Complete Reprise Sessions (2006)

39_LargeFrom blogcritics.org

Several weeks ago I completed a thirteen part retrospective of the major album releases in The Byrds catalogue. While Gram Parsons was with the group for only a short period of time, his contributions would help pave the way in the development of the fusion of rock and country music. At the time I made a mental note to visit some of his solo material in the near future and so here we are.

Gram Parsons left behind quite a legacy, having died at the young age of 26. He was a member of The International Submarine Band, The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and performed as a solo artist. He traveled and partied with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and was a drug addict, which would ultimately cost him his life. Through it all he created wonderful music that fit his gentle vocals.

The Complete Reprise Sessions gathers together the two studio albums that Parsons recorded for the Reprise label, each of which comes with a number of bonus tracks. A third disc is included which provides 18 rare and alternate versions of many of his songs. GP and Grievous Angel are a wonderful look into the mid and music of Gram Parsons shortly before his death in 1976.

Country star Emmylou Harris was a part of Parsons musical entourage at the time and she was the creative force behind this release plus also serves as its co-producer. The two albums come in separate packages with the original art work intact. The accompanying booklet contains many rare pictures plus a nice biography of Parsons and the music contained within. It is the clarity of the music that really stands out however. The tracks have been re-mastered so that every nuance of the music and vocals come together as they were originally intended.

GP comes very close to being a classic modern day country album. “We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning” features a classic duet between Harris and Parsons. Their voices on “A Song For You” run counterpoint to each other. While they were close in age, the hard living was catching up with him. Her voice is fresh and new while his is forlorn and straining which ends up creating a memorable listening experience. “Big Mouth Blues” is an up-tempo tribute to his southern roots.

Grievous Angel was the most consistent work released by him and serves as his musical epitaph. He seems to have been in a better place emotionally and physically as his vocals are purer than on GP and the songs are universally strong, well chosen, and fit together well. The most memorable track is “In My Hour Of Darkness” which serves as a eulogy for three dead friends and as the last track on the original release would be like a coffin lid closing on his own career and life.

The third disc of alternate versions is interesting but pales next to the original albums. The best of the tracks are the three songs by Boudleaux Bryant and his wife Felice. “Sleepless Nights,” “Brand New Heartache,” and especially “Love Hurts” all stand on their own very nicely.

If you want to explore the legacy of Gram Parsons The Complete Reprise Sessions is a good place to start. There is a lot of good music contained in this nice little box set which is also a poignant reminder of the fragility of life.

March 1, 2013 Posted by | Gram Parsons The Complete Reprise Sessions | Leave a comment

Gram Parsons: The Complete Reprise Sessions (2006)

From The Sydney Morning Herald

Mythologised and anthologised, if still little recognised, Ingram Cecil Connor III, or Gram Parsons, should really be a “what if” footnote in music history.

His ’60s career usually found him jettisoning bands, or being ejected, as he sought for some middle ground between rock, folk and country music but never quite nailed it.

His ’70s career had two solo albums, the second released posthumously, and the sales of both worth very little. But it’s hard to imagine the ’90s alt.country scene and even some of the finest of the ’70s and ’80s country (such as Emmylou Harris’s career) existing without the templates of those two albums, GP and Grievous Angel.

This box has those two and a third disc of out-takes, which are often at least as beautiful as the released versions. Don’t come looking for rock with twangy bits though; this is pure country music, done without irony, but with often startling heart and the exquisite blend of Parsons and Harris’s voices.

May 17, 2010 Posted by | Gram Parsons The Complete Reprise Sessions | | Leave a comment

Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel DVD, Complete Reprise Sessions and An Intimate Biography of Gram Parsons by Jessica Hundley (2007/2007/2005)

From Musictap.com

We seem to have a multimedia “Gram Parsons assault” in progress. Over a relatively short period of time, we are treated to a book, a DVD, and a cd reissue with a wealth of alternate takes and interviews. Interestingly, Parsons is the first member of the Byrds to receive this royal treatment, so maybe we can hope that similar works are in progress for the original Byrds.

Grievous Angel:An Intimate Biography of Gram Parsons

I’m not usually a big fan of “rock” biographies. They tend to go overboard with praise for the artists and have a difficult time in keeping the artist’s pedestal modest. In the case of Gram Parsons, one of the pioneers of country-rock in the late sixties, we are dealing with a true enigma…he helped steer the Byrds into pure country with his involvement on “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, founded the legendary Flying Burrito Brothers with Chris Hillman, carved out a solo career that featured some of the most heartfelt and emotional canons of songs I’ve ever heard, and became a mentor to Emily Lou Harris. All this before he died of a drug/alcohol overdose in a motel room in Joshua Tree, California at the age of 26. Did I mention that his body was stolen by his manager, Phil Kaufmann and taken out to the desert to be burned as part of a pact the two made shortly before after they attended Clarence White’s funeral. If this doesn’t have “movie” written all over it, nothing does. Johnnie Depp…if you’re reading this…

“Grievous Angel” is a solid biography of a brilliant, but tragic musician. When the book stays close to telling his story, it is an inspired read. Parsons’ influences are made clear and his progression from a rich, spoiled folkie to rock legend gains greater clarity as we begin to understand how his dysfunctional family situation when he was growing up caused him to seek solace in music and the approval of others…no matter whether their approval was necessary.

There are numerous interviews scattered through the book and they vary considerably in their value. Conspicuous in their absence are any interviews with Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman. As former band mates in the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, I think that their perspectives would have been welcome additions.
This book is a must read for anyone who has an affection for country (or country rock). It’s a very disturbing read on some levels and serves to remind us of the uglier side of the Sixties legacy.

Fallen Angel DVD

The second installment of Gram Parsons material is the best of the group. This film (Fallen Angel) was a long time in the making (6+) years and has an entirely different feel about itself. The film pays homage to every stage of Gram’s career but also shows the pain he caused to his closest friends and family members with his addictive behavior.
The perspective seems unique (to me) perhaps because Henning doesn’t stoop toward adulation…he recognizes Gram’s brilliance and contributions, but doesn’t shy away from the seamy side of his legacy either.
“Fallen Angel” spends a good amount of time in delivering a perspective from many of the musicians that Parsons worked with, from the International Submarine Band, Flying Burrito Brothers, back up players from Parsons’ solo albums, and Emmylou Harris. Phil Kaufman is given ample opportunity to offer his side of the story that involved his stealing Gram’s body from LAX and driving it out to Joshua Tree Monument where he carried out his friend’s request that his body be cremated in his favorite spot. Now, more than 30 years later, we see some degree of reconciliation with Gram’s family over the issue.

Henning brings an uncanny perspective to the country rock emergence which is very admirable given his youth and the fact that he grew up in Germany. The most touching comment came from Ms. Harris when she asked that people remember Gram’s music as his legacy…not the way he died. This DVD is a must see for any rock fan…it’s almost a primer of lifestyles to be avoided.

The Complete Reprise Sessions 3CD Box

There have been a number of CDs that attempt to cover Gram Parsons’ career. Most tend to focus on his work with the Flying Burrito Brothers. Rhino has issued re-mastered versions of his first two solo efforts (“GP” and “Grievous Angel”). Both have been released in some form previously, but the sound is much cleaner here. The real attraction from my perspective is in the bonus tracks on each of the solo efforts and the 3rd cd which is comprised entirely of alternate takes. These cuts simply shine even though they’re not fundamentally different from the released versions. Standout cuts are “Return of the Grievous Angel #1”, “In my Hour of Darkness”, and a stunning read of “Brass Buttons” (a song written about his mother Avis, who died of alcohol poisoning when he was a young man). There’s a version of “Hickory Wind” that tops any version previously released, including the Byrds’ version on “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (a claim I don’t make lightly).

There are a number of interviews that fill out the 1st two discs. This is a great compilation of Parsons’ solo efforts. No country (or country rock) fan should be without this set.

May 17, 2010 Posted by | Book An Intimate Biography of Gram Parsons by Jessica Hundley, Gram Parsons Fallen Angel DVD, Gram Parsons The Complete Reprise Sessions | , , | Leave a comment

Gram Parsons – The Complete Reprise Sessions (2006)

From About.com

As I’ve studied the “genre” of Americana, read books on the subject and listened to the music, more than anyone else the name of Gram Parsons is mentioned. I’ve come to the conclusion that Parsons is to Americana – country rock, alt-country – what Hank Williams is to “traditional” country music. He was a brilliant songwriter and stellar performer, writing scores of beloved songs and spawning an entirely new genre. He also managed to kill himself with drugs and drink before his 30th birthday.
GP
The three-disc collection begins with Gram Parsons’ first solo album, GP. In the year between first discussing the idea with Keith Richards and actually beginning recording, Parsons made the discovery of the girl singer he’d been looking for, a young woman named Emmylou Harris. At long last, with producer Rik Grech and backed by Elvis Presley’s touring band (including James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, and Ronnie Tutt), recording finally began. The album that resulted from those sessions remains a magnificent slice of what they called “country rock” in those days; in listening, it’s hard to believe this wasn’t always as pure country as country can get. Parsons himself says he doesn’t understand why people have to sub-catagorize music; if it’s good, it’s good. And this album is good. With songs as diverse as “Streets of Baltimore” and “We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes in the Morning,” as well as Parsons’ own songs, sung in Parsons’ sweet tenor with Emmylou’s distinctive soprano, it can’t help but be a constant joy. The re-issue here comes with seven bonus tracks, including rare interviews and live performances of “Sin City” and “Love Hurts.” An amazing album, doubly astounding when considering that Parsons was only 25 years old at the time.
Song List:
Gram Parsons
Warner BrothersStill Feeling Blue
We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning
A Song For You
Streets of Baltimore
She
That’s All It Took
The New Soft Shoe
Kiss the Children
Cry One More Time
How Much I’ve Lied
Big Mouth Blues

Bonus tracks:
GP Radio Promo
Interviews: How did you meet Emmylou Harris?
What is the story behind ‘A Song For You’?
What is the story behind ‘The New Soft Shoe’?
WBCN interview with Maxine Sartori
Love Hurts
Sin City
Grievous Angel
Parsons followed up his beautiful debut solo album with the equally stunning Grievous Angel, an album which deserves a place alongside other great country albums. Parsons wrote nearly every song on Grievous Angel, throwing in the lament “Love Hurts,” as well as Tom T. Hall’s “I Can’t Dance” and the Louvin Brothers’ “Cash on the Barrelhead.” Of course, a great deal of amazing country music was being recorded at this time under the heading of “country rock,” and in that arena Parsons was in grand company, as well. Again with duet-mate Emmylou Harris, each song is finely crafted, a superlative study in the exact way duets should be performed. Harris and Parsons were an exquisite pair, unmatched in any genre of music before or since, their voices perfectly suited as they wove together on such songs as “Hearts on Fire” and the heart-wrenching “In My Hour of Darkness,” one of the most amazing songs I think I’ve ever heard. I admit despite having known the Burritos and the Byrds, as well as the name of Gram Parsons, for years, I’d never listened to these two albums before, and I’ve been blown away. There are three bonus tracks on this disc, including one instrumental and two interviews.
Song List:
Return of the Grievous Angel
Hearts on Fire
I Can’t Dance
Brass Buttons
$1000 Wedding
Medley Live from Northern Quebec
Cash on the Barrelhead / Hickory Wind

Love Hurts
Ooh Las Vegas
In My Hour of Darkness

Bonus tracks:
Return of the Grievous Angel (instrumental)
Interviews: Did you sing ‘Hickory Wind’ at the Grand Ole Opry?
What differences do you see between pure country and country rock?

Alternate Takes
The third disc in the collection puts together never-before-released alternative takes of the songs on the first two discs, some of which are even better than the released versions. It’s a terrific bonus, a nice capper that makes for a very special whole. Still, since it is just mostly a rehash of what’s already been heard, what it really does is leave one a slightly bitter taste, a wishing for what might have been. Shortly after the recording for Grievous Angel was finished, Gram Parsons died on September 19, 1973, in Room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn in Joshua Tree, California. He was 26 years old. His legend was further strengthened by the bizarre nature of what followed, as his body was stolen by his road manager, Phil Kaufman, taken out to the desert, and burned. This, along with his heartbreaking, breathtaking music and his youth, caused him to pass from legend to myth. The country rocker who spanned the gap and brought the roots sound to folks on both sides of the divide. The one real crime is, today these guys, Parsons and the groups he was in – the Burritos, the Byrds, they’d easily be just plain country singers today. Crazy, wild boys with long hair and Manuel suits who loved George Jones because of Gram.
Song List:
She (alternate version) *
That’s All it Took (alternate version)*
Still Feeling Blue (alternate version)*
Kiss the Children (alternate version)*
Streets of Baltimore (alternate version)*
We’ll Sweep out the Ashes in the Morning (alternate version)*
The New Soft Shoe (alternate version)*
Return of the Grievous Angel #1 (alternate version)*
In My Hour of Darkness (alternate version)*
Ooh Las Vegas (alternate version)*
I Can’t Dance (alternate version)*
Sleepless Nights (alternate version)*
Love Hurts (alternate version)*
Brass Buttons (alternate version)*
Hickory Wind (alternate version)*
Brand New Heartache
Sleepless Nights
The Angels Rejoiced Last Night
* previously unissued

Fallen Angel
A movie by Gandulf Henning, this documentary story of the quintessential American roots musician was actually made by what I think is a Scandinavian company in association with the BBC. Whoever made it, it’s an amazing story. Parsons, born Ingram Cecil Connor III, came from the kind of family that only happens in America – his mother the daughter of a wealthy citrus baron, his father a simple country boy. His father, given to moodiness and alcoholism, committed suicide when Gram was only 12. His mother later married Robert Parsons, who adopted her children and gave them his name. Young Gram gravitated to music, was inspired by seeing Elvis Presley perform in 1957, and determined to become a performer himself. The story is told by those who lived through it, family and friends, including the daughter of Gram’s younger sister, “little” Avis; Keith Richards, Chris Hillman, other members of the Byrds and the Burritos, as well as road manager Phil Kaufman, the man who assisted in giving birth to the myth. Parsons’ short, wild life was as heartbreaking as his voice; but the aftermath of his death was truly bizarre.
At funeral of Clarence White, the brilliant guitarist of the Byrds, who had been killed by a drunk driver in July of 1973, Gram apparently decided that, should he die, he didn’t want to be buried in the ground. Reportedly, he told Phil Kaufman he would rather be burned in the peace and beauty of the Joshua Tree National Forest. No one could have guessed that Gram would die only two months later and that Kaufman would act on what he believed was Gram’s last wish. After Parsons’ death, apparently due to a combination of a morphine overdose and tequila, Kaufman and a friend stole Parsons’ body from the Los Angeles airport, from where it was being shipped to his family home in New Orleans. They carried him out to Joshua Tree and partially burned the body at Cap Rock (still a pilgrimage site for Parsons fans today). Kaufman tells the tale from his side; the family speaks from theirs. The producers leave it to the viewer to decide the propriety of Kaufman’s actions, but the pain of Gram’s family is clear. Kaufman was only fined for burning a coffin, as stealing a body was not a crime. The remains were recovered and eventually interred in New Orleans. In the final words, though, Emmylou Harris says to remember his music, not his death.

May 16, 2010 Posted by | Gram Parsons The Complete Reprise Sessions | | Leave a comment

Gram Parsons: The Complete Reprise Sessions (2006)

From Pitchfork.com

I’ll start with the obvious reissue questions. First, regarding availability, Gram Parsons’ two solo albums, GP (1972) and Grievous Angel (1973), have long been combined on one CD for less than half the price of this 3xCD set. Nevertheless, the upgrade is worthwhile: The songs have been remastered for this reissue, and the packaging is greatly improved, with miniature cardboard LP sleeves for the discs and new liners by Holly George-Warren and Parke Puterbaugh– although the latter’s interpretation of “Return of the Grievous Angel” seems questionable.

Regarding bonus material, The Complete Reprise Sessions includes a wealth of extra tracks, including alternate takes and demos as well as a radio spot advertising GP and several interviews with Parsons. On the one hand, these interviews are excellent complements to the music: hearing him speak, despite his stoned cadence, is much more revealing than reading transcripts in the liners. But for some reason, the producers– Emmylou Harris and John Austin– have placed some of these bonus tracks at the end of the two proper albums, where they completely disrupt the flow of the songs and the finality of the records. Grievous Angel ought to fade into meaningful silence after “In My Hour of Darkness”, as handsome a eulogy as anyone ever wrote for himself. Instead, that short silence is interrupted by an instrumental version of “Return of the Grievous Angel”, which sounds like a karaoke track, followed by an interview clip.

The position of the bonus material is a legitimate complaint, but its bearing on the music ultimately is minimal. It’s doubtful that even the most harebrained sequencing could ruin these songs. Drenched in pedal steel, GP reveals its demons gradually, especially on Parsons originals like “Still Feeling Blue” and the elegiac “A Song for You”, which exhibit a mastery of melody that few other country rockers can approach. “Kiss the Children” and “How Much I’ve Lied” are broken-family songs that couldn’t sound any more convincing out of George Jones’ mouth. As he often did, Parsons romanticizes the country life on songs like “She” and “Streets of Baltimore”, but it’s touching rather than overly sentimental. He comes across as a confused kid looking for answers in country music’s clear-cut morals, in its absolute distinctions between sin and virtue. Biographically and psychologically, country music may have been a substitute for Parsons’ own tragic family life. As a result, GP sounds like a heartfelt album that truly fears damnation but locates a precarious redemption in every note.

Grievous Angel might actually be better. That title could be Parsons’ CB handle, and the album has the picaresque pace of a travelogue, from the trucker’s lament of “Return of the Grievous Angel” to the godspeed prayer of “In My Hour of Darkness”. In this context the fake “live” medley of the Louvin Brothers’ “Cash on the Barrelhead” and the Byrds’ “Hickory Wind” (which Parsons co-wrote) makes perfect sense. By that point, his life was mostly tours and travel, and this transience is reflected in the unsettled lyrics. He dives into autobiography on “Brass Buttons”, which Puterbaugh asserts is about Parsons’ alcoholic mother, and “$1000 Wedding”, about an actual event in his life. “Love Hurts” is a superlative duet with Harris, their voices melding sensuously and dramatically, and “In My Hour of Darkness” drives a big rig off into the sunset, with Parsons lamenting the deaths of three friends and asking the lord for safety and wisdom.

Parsons might just as well be singing about himself on that song. He died of a drug overdose before Grievous Angel was released, so “In My Hour of Darkness” was his final bow. Given all the impenetrable myths that have built up around him, it seems important to emphasize this song as a finale, which is why the tacked-on bonus tracks hurt so much. They would have been less intrusive on the third disc, which is comprised solely of newly unearthed outtakes and a few rare tracks from the 1976 compilation Sleepless Nights. This disc has no flow to interrupt and no cohesion to break, but that doesn’t mean these songs aren’t worthwhile. In addition to rougher versions of “Return of the Grievous Angel” and “We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning” and revved-up takes on “Ooh Las Vegas” and “I Can’t Dance”, Parsons and the band inject a little boogie into the last bars of “She” and “Still Feeling Blue”, without losing any of their gravity. And Parsons’ cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “The Angels Rejoiced Last Night”, in addition to seeming semiautobiographical, would have been perfectly at home on Grievous Angel.

These are ostensibly the last Parsons gems left to unearth. Maybe there are more, but it seems unlikely– at least of this high quality. So maybe it’s best that there are a few flaws in The Complete Reprise Sessions. The placement of these interviews will have to be remedied on another set, and revisiting these songs in the future will certainly be something to look forward to.

May 16, 2010 Posted by | Gram Parsons The Complete Reprise Sessions | | Leave a comment