Gram Parsons & the Fallen Angels
Live 1973, Sierra Records
CD SXCD 6002, 1996
Gold disk reissue of a live broadcast gem
First the facts. Gram Parsons, easily the most influential artist of
the country-rock era, had a relatively brief career from the late 1960s
until he died from a drug overdose in September 1973. After his work with
the Byrds culminated in the superb Sweetheart of the Rodeo LP, he
moved on to lead one of the early incarnations of the Flying Burrito Brothers,
and produced two wonderful solo albums, GP and Grievous Angel.
This gold-plated CD (also available in regular silver) is a re-release of
an LP from a March 1973 radio concert from the tour promoting the GP album.
The selections form a continuum from traditional country gospel, to the
'60s Nashville of Tom T. Hall and Merle Haggard, the truck stop rock of
"Six Days on the Road," and on into an encore of Chuck Berry and
But facts alone can't do justice to the sweet, naive recorded presence
he left behind. On his two studio works and in this live performance, his
voice blends with a barely discovered Emmylou Harris in a wonderful, soaring
harmony. One of their best pieces is "Love Hurts," the Boudleaux
Bryant classic previously recorded by Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers.
The perfection of the Grievous Angel version begs the question of how many
takes were required. Here, they nail it live. The stately, steadily building
arrangement is heartbreaking on its own accord, compounded by the fiery
intensity of their partnership. Over twenty years later, Harris still features
a Parsons tune on most albums and concerts. Love hurts, indeed.
The live radio format is a bit constraining, as evidenced by the too-abrupt
kickoff of the opening track, "We'll Sweep out the Ashes." In
fact, it takes a while for the whole endeavor to get rolling, although that
sense diminishes on repeated listening. This CD restores some material that
didn't fit on the original release, notably some chatter between songs.
The patter gives you a sense of the conflicts between the country boy and
the New York City deejay hosting the show, but it sure would be nice if
you could slip the CD into a no-talk mode after the first or second listening.
This release also adds a closing rock-n-roll medley, remarkable for its
joyous approach and concise presentation-no flashy guitar solos, no sing-alongs,
and all wrapped up in under six minutes.
Although much of the material itself is timeless, the performance is
definitely of an era. Emmylou Harris, clearly a partner here, is referred
to as "that girl you're hearing." The drumming is particularly
lame, and still too loud even in the re-mix. And the pedal steel is played
in the overly weepy style in vogue with contemporary country rock bands.
Despite these minor gripes, the album is a fine legacy of a very enjoyable
Looking around at the current crop of country stars, it's hard to remember
a time when a youngster so in love with country tradition would be shunned
by the Grand Ole Opry because he was a no-good long-haired hippie freak.
Today, photos of him seem prematurely angelic, his young face still round
with baby fat and framed by dark bangs and a shoulder-length shag. At the
time, however, his pioneering Nashville work with the Byrds was not well-received
by the country establishment, and he and Roger McGuinn wrote "Drug
Store Truck Drivin' Man" (also performed here) as a response to some
of it. The Byrds' version is bitter, and the vocals sound a bit drunken.
The much more effective version recorded here is slower, and sounds more
like the mournful ballad of a jilted lover.
Somewhere in Joshua Tree National Monument, there's a succulent yucca
that stands just a little bit taller, with flowers just a bit sweeter than
the rest, nurtured by the ashes of Gram Parsons. It's hard to crank up too
much sympathy for the indulgent rock star who succumbs because of too much
poison stuck up his nose or shot into his veins, but occasionally there's
an artist whose passing leaves us all a bit poorer. Gram Parsons was clearly
one of those artists, a talented young man with a sweet voice who has left
us an all too brief recorded history. This live recording makes a fine addition
to that catalog.
This concert was part of a great series of live in-studio concerts broadcast
in the early 1970s from WLIR, an FM station just outside New York City on
Long Island. WLIR was easily the best commercial radio found in the New
York area during that era, less popular and more experimental than the already
pretentious and stodgy WNEW. I was a frequent listener, but for some reason
missed the remarkable concert captured on this disc. If my memory and this
set are any indication, there's a gold mine of other performances sitting
in the WLIR vaults, an American version of the John Peel sessions. - Bill
Jason Staczek says... This record may be a find for veteran Gram fans,
but newcomers (like me) are better off starting with the 2-on-1 CD GP/Grievous
Angel (WEA/Warner Brothers 7599 26108 2). It hasn't been out of my CD
player since I got it. It would almost be worth picking up just to hear
Buddy Emmons' extraordinary pedal steel playing. If Gram, Emmylou and Buddy
don't do it for you, I don't want to hear about it.
Glenn Brooks says... Yes, it's a gold CD, and yes, it
sounds pretty good.
Better yet, it is still available from Sierra
on vinyl LP, at just $7 (half
the price of the CD) and better sound, in my opinion.
A small correction... Nick Spitzer, in his fine radio show,
American Routes, said Gram was buried in
New Orleans and
not in the Joshua Tree National Monument. I did a little research at the
invaluable Find A Grave web site, and learned that while Nick was right, an informal
desert cremation did take place. Find A Grave has
Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Neil Flanz, N. D. Smart, Kyle Tullis, Jock