Monday, June 1, 2015

Gram Parsons 1: GP

Revisionist history will tell you that Gram Parsons was a musical genius not fully appreciated in his time. We weren’t there, so we can’t say for sure, but like most people we had to find out about him after the fact. Still, he did help Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman find a new direction for the Byrds, then ran off with Hillman to form the Flying Burrito Brothers, and helped found what we now call country rock. However, he also hero-worshipped Keith Richards, musically as well as pharmaceutically, so it took a relative while for him to finally record an album under his own name.

While recorded in Hollywood and not Nashville, GP is a pure country album, with very little of the “rock” sounds that permeated the best Burritos tracks. With Ric Grech of Blind Faith and Traffic as the unlikely producer, the band gathered such pros as James Burton, Glen Hardin, and Ron Tutt from Elvis Presley’s band, Al Perkins and Buddy Emmons switching off on pedal steel, and the ever-popular Byron Berline on fiddle. But the most notable contribution was that of a heretofore unknown singer named Emmylou Harris, who brought out the best in the man who more or less discovered her.

Berline’s fiddle saws away from the very first notes of “Still Feeling Blue”, a Parsons original that sounds like a chestnut. Emmylou gets a nice spotlight on “We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning”, but lends more subtle support on “A Song For You”. “Streets Of Baltimore” is another classic weeper about the evils of the big city, balanced nicely by the portrait of “She”, who “sure could sing”.

“That’s All It Took” is another swell duet that’s pretty straightforward, but we can’t say the same for “The New Soft Shoe”, which actually seems to be just as much about footwear as it is a dance move. Ric Grech contributed “Kiss The Children”, which sports a vocal backing borrowed directly from the Jordanaires, while “Cry One More Time” and its ‘50s saxophone comes straight from the second J. Geils Band album, of all places. The simple remorse of “How Much I’ve Lied” is smacked aside by the more obnoxious “Big Mouth Blues”, which is all honky-tonk boogie.

One’s enjoyment of GP will depend on how much likes any kind of country music, whether it’s classic Nashville or today’s sterile conveyor belt products. Whatever your preference or lack thereof, Gram Parsons was not a cookie cutter musician, and that’s why these songs have endured.

Gram Parsons GP (1973)—3

1 comment:

  1. Here is an article I wrote about his 2nd LP, Grievous Angel & his bizarre funeral.