“It was sort of funky country. Not quite rock, but beyond traditional country.” So said Hugh Davis about Gram Parsons' lone two solo albums, GP and Grevious Angel, which continued along the path initially explored on the The Gilded Palace Of Sin. Parsons himself dubbed it “Cosmic American Music,” which seems ill-fitting given the earthy nature of his songs, which focus lyrically around sad country staples such as lost love and doomed relationships among untrustworthy lovers. Musically he relies on violins and pedal steel guitars alongside more rock minded instrumentation, with Elvis’ backing band doing the honors on fresh interpretations of some old country standards. On GP, Parsons also adds several stellar new compositions of his own, in particular “A Song For You” and “She,” both of which are hauntingly lovely. These ballads are where Gram is at his most effective, as they showcase Parsons' fragile voice to aching effect, while newcomer Emmylou Harris (who would later become a major solo star in her own right) lends luminous vocal support on several songs, including "We'll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning" and "That's All It Took," fine duets on which Emmylou actually outshines Gram (she'd make a career out of doing just that to many a fine male singer). Elsewhere, "Still Feeling Blue" is a catchy, briskly paced song about loss, Tompass Glaser/Harlan Howard's "Streets Of Baltimore" is an impressive story song with great lyrics, and I’m also partial to his surprisingly effective cover of the J. Geils Band’s “Cry One More Time.” That’s probably the highlight for me on the album's considerably less successful second half, as perhaps too many late nights with buddy Keith Richards prevented Parsons from completely realizing his enormous potential, but GP was still a pretty great first solo outing.
Grevious Angel (Warner Brothers ’74, Reprise '90) Rating: A-
Completed right before his tragic drug related death at the age of 26, Grievous Angel features a slightly stronger and more consistent set of songs than GP, while Emmylou Harris assumes an increased role (again that’s a good thing). Her angelic vocals grace many a sad and beautiful ballad, while evocative lines like “her words still dance inside my head, her comb still lies beside my bed, and the sun comes up without her, it just doesn’t know she’s gone” are hard to shake, as Parsons wisely concentrates on slow story songs filled with heartache. He also reprises his most famous song, “Hickory Wind,” with Emmylou (it had previously appeared on The Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo) during the “Medley Live From Northern Quebec” (actually cut in the studio with Gram and friends adding annoying crowd noises), and transforms The Everly Brothers' “Love Hurts” into a shatteringly spare performance. "Return Of The Grevious Angel," "Hearts On Fire," "Brass Buttons," "$1000 Wedding," and "In My Hour Of Darkness" are of a similarly high quality, though faster paced songs such as "I Can't Dance," "Cash On The Barrelhead," and "Ooh Las Vegas" are again much less impressive. In short, Gram Parsons was a graceful songwriter with a sharp eye for gathering outside material, and though I’m generally not a big country music fan (at least not the honky tonk kind), I find myself highly moved by much of his music. His sad early passing and relatively meager sales ensured that he would always remain a cult figure, but his immense influence on artists that followed and a small but strong body of work should ensure that he'll continue to live on in the hearts of his dedicated fans. Note: In 1990, Reprise Records released both of his solo albums together onto a single cd, with informative liner notes and lyrics to each song, making for a great value cd.
send me an email
Back To Artist Index Home Page