Friday, January 4, 2013

Gram Parsons -GP/Grevious Angel

GP/Grevious Angel
At the time these two albums were released, there was little interest in them. Neither country fans nor rock fans appreciated Gram's attempts to create a hybrid country-rock music back then. Yet, within a few short years, Gram became a revered figure - a status he still retains. The extent of his influence is hard to assess, but he made an important contribution via one album with the Byrds (Sweethearts of the rodeo), two albums with the Flying Burrito brothers (Gilded palace of sin, Burrito deluxe) and the two solo albums that make up this set. All five albums are better appreciated now than they were when first released. It helps that these albums provided the breakthrough for Emmylou Harris, who lends vocal support on several songs. Emmylou helped the legacy of Gram by covering several of his songs including Ooh Las Vegas, Hickory wind and She (all featured here) as well as some of his earlier songs from his time with the Flying Burrito brothers.

The other thing that strikes me, listening to these albums now, is that they sound much nearer to traditional country than rock music. This may in part be due to the changes in country music over the thirty years since. Several instruments used on these albums would find a hard time getting on a contemporary country album - in particular, steel guitars are a rarity these days where once they were standard. Of course, if you compare this to a truly traditional country album, you'll hear the difference easily enough - but then listen to a rock album or a contemporary country album and you'll hear a much bigger difference.

The songs here are a mix of originals and covers. Hickory wind is both - it was written by Gram but first recorded for the Byrds album, Sweethearts of the rodeo, so the version here is a cover. Cash on the barrelhead is a cover of a Louvin Brothers song. This very song was later covered by Dolly Parton and appeared on her classic album, Grass is blue, while Emmylou was clearly impressed - she later covered several Louvin songs. Other covers include I can't dance (Tom T Hall), Streets of Baltimore (Tompall and the Glaser brothers), That's all it took (George Jones), Love hurts (originally recorded by the Everly brothers, it provided Jim Capaldi with a British top five hit in 1975) and Cry one more time (J Geils band). The final track, In my hour of darkness, features Linda Ronstadt as well as Emmylou, so this is the first time they recorded together.

So, what is Gram's legacy, apart from his own recordings? He helped Emmylou into the big time and also introduced her to Linda. He introduced Emmylou to the music of the Louvin Brothers. He was an influence on the Eagles, Dwight Yoakam and what is now known as the alt-country movement. All of these are important, but some might have happened anyway. Some accord Gram a God-like status, while others dismiss him as a no-hit irrelevance. The truth lies somewhere in between. In any case, the two albums paired on this CD are worth listening to in their own right, regardless of their historical significance

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