Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Gram Parsons 2: Grievous Angel

By the time Grievous Angel came out, its auteur was dead, just short of the magical age of 27. This has had a lot to do with Gram Parsons’ hagiographical status, but the key to the album—and its success—is Emmylou Harris, who harmonizes on nearly every track. Having many of the same solid players on board, none of whom were as debilitated by drink and drugs as he was, helped too.

For all its Nashville trappings, “Return Of The Grievous Angel” is not your ordinary country song, loaded with sly imagery and changes. “Hearts On Fire” is another weeper, Emmylou’s control tempering his wavering. The uptempo “I Can’t Dance” has some tasty guitar work but is just a brief tangent. “Brass Buttons” is a lovely sad lament, and “$1000 Wedding” is even more heartbreaking; both are excellent cases for his songwriting.

The atmosphere changes abruptly for “Medley Live From Northern Quebec”, which isn’t a medley at all but “Cash On The Barrelhead” followed by his own “Hickory Wind” with canned crowd noise and fake patter added in, basically used to keep the album over half an hour. “Love Hurts” was tackled a full year before Nazareth got to it, and here it’s milked for all the tears it can wring. “Ooh Las Vegas” is a jaunty rewrite of “Mystery Train” written with Ric Grech and left over from the first album, while “In My Hour Of Darkness”, written with Emmylou is stately and profound, ultimately lifting the album above its older brother.

And that was pretty much it for Gram Parsons, though his music certainly endured. Warner Bros. thoughtfully paired GP with Grievous Angel on a two-fer cassette in the ‘80s, then issued them together on a single CD in 1990, providing excellent value for fans old and new. In 2006, in time for what would have been his 60th birthday, The Complete Reprise Sessions put each album on its own disc with interview snippets afterwards, and added a third disc of alternate takes.

Gram Parsons Grievous Angel (1974)—

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