Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Gram Parsons



1. Return Of The Grievous Angel
2. Hearts On Fire
3. I Can't Dance
4. Brass Buttons
5. $1000 Wedding
6. Medley: Live From Northern Quebec
a) Cash On The Barrelhead
b) Hickory Wind
7. Love Hurts
8. Ooh Las Vegas
9. In My Hour Of Darkness   

Sadly, Gram Parsons didn't live to see the release of this, his second solo album, passing away from a drug overdose in September 1973. The album is almost a shared one with Emmylou Harris, who features on vocals throughout. Initially the album was credited to both of them, but Parsons' widow changed that, removing Harris's picture and changing the credits. Harris was only credited on the rear cover. The album did not sell well, but it has received a barrel load of retrospective kudos over the years. I remember flicking through album sleeves in the seventies in record shops and regularly seeing it, never knowing much about it, though.

Parsons is an important artist in that he was respected by the rock cognoscenti and succeeded, mostly posthumously, in bringing country music to a rock audience.

Incidentally, I always thought Gram Parsons was his real name (or at least Graham), but he was born Ingram Cecil Connor III. An interesting bit of trivia.

Return Of The Grievous Angel is a melodic country groove, enhanced by some nice violin and a beautifully harmonious double vocal from Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Lyrically, it mentions "truckers",  "cowboy angels" and "desert towns", so it treads familiar ground. I'm sure Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen loved this song. On the next track, the gentle country ballad Hearts On Fire, Harris's voice enhances really appealingly once again.

Some solid country rock is served up on the enjoyable, rocking I Can't Dance. It has airs of early Jackson Browne about it. One of the album's best tracks is the beautiful, reflective country majesty of Brass Buttons. Check out that crystal clear cymbal backing and the steel guitar too. It is one of Parsons' best songs. There are hints of The EaglesDesperado in there, for me. $1000 Wedding is a great one too, full of country narrative atmosphere, almost like a Dylan song.

An oddity is the supposedly "live' medley - Medley: Live From Northern Quebec a) Cash On The Barrelhead b) Hickory Wind - which features false crowd noises and a manufactured live atmosphere. Basically, Parsons and his band are just playing live in the studio. I'm not quite sure why this was done, but it sounds good anyway. (Big Brother & The Holding Company did the same thing on 1968's Cheap Thrills album). The first track is a rollicking country bar-room romp, the second is Hickory Wind, known to all Byrds fans as Parsons did it with them on his one album as a Byrd, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, back in 1968.

Love Hurts, a track subsequently covered by many artists is just gorgeous, with the vocals in perfect harmony and a lovely bass line on it too. Ooh Las Vegas is an infectious, rocking piece of country blues fun. It rocks from beginning to end and is backed by some intoxicating percussion. Emmylou is wonderful on here as well. The cymbal work and rocking guitar is a joy too. The album ends with the lovely In My Hour Of Darkness, a perfect sombre country classic. To think Parsons died a matter of weeks after recording this album is so sad. This was one of the great country albums, enjoyable from beginning to end.