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Old 07-29-2009, 07:33 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Gram Parsons - A Few Reviews



Due to my listening to his music a hell of a lot lately, I thought it was high time I started a review thread about him. In short, Gram Parsons here is another one of my personal favourite singer-songwriters and, with his groundbreaking concept of 'cosmic American music', had an impact on music during his tragically short, 26-year life which is still being felt today in country circles. This led to the recording of some of the most influential and important albums of the 60s and quite possibly the cream of the alternate country crop in at the very least the early 70s.

In case anyone's curious enough, there's already a Gram Parsons thread in the country forum right about here.

With regards to this one though, I'll be reviewing the official studio albums he was involved in up 'til his death at 26, most of which I'd say serve as good an introduction as you could ask for to country in their own rights. These were;


1968 - Safe at Home (International Submarine Band) 7/10
- Sweetheart of the Rodeo (The Byrds) 10/10
1969 - The Gilded Palace of Sin (Flying Burrito Brothers) 10/10
1970 - Burrito Deluxe (Flying Burrito Brothers) 6/10
1973 - GP 8/10
1974 - Grievous Angel 9/10

Best Of Mixtape

*Glossary of ratings*
1-3/10 = Don't waste your time.
4-5/10 = Strictly for completists only.
6-7/10 = Solid album, nothing truly special though.
8/10 = Very good stuff.
9/10 = Very very good stuff.
10/10 = Absolutely and unquestionably essential.
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Old 07-29-2009, 11:33 AM   #2 (permalink)
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A great book about G.P. "Twenty Thousand Roads" - everything there is to know about him
is in this book. Well written and a good read too. He was a real piece of work.
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Old 07-29-2009, 06:47 PM   #3 (permalink)
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I've been meaning to check this guy out for a long time.
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Old 07-29-2009, 06:51 PM   #4 (permalink)
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About time.

And I thought I was nearly alone in the country-rock department.
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Old 07-30-2009, 05:18 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Classof75 View Post
A great book about G.P. "Twenty Thousand Roads" - everything there is to know about him
is in this book. Well written and a good read too. He was a real piece of work.
Not heard of that but I should definitely look out for it - it's been many a month since I last read a good rock biography. For those kinds of purposes, the Fallen Angel documentary is solid gold too.

I'm off out this evening (GMT) so, depending how quiet the boards are, I'll probably get the first review up in an hour or two.
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Old 07-30-2009, 05:40 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bulldog View Post
Not heard of that but I should definitely look out for it - it's been many a month since I last read a good rock biography. For those kinds of purposes, the Fallen Angel documentary is solid gold too.

I'm off out this evening (GMT) so, depending how quiet the boards are, I'll probably get the first review up in an hour or two.
This is a great biography. After reading this book (Twenty Thousand Roads), I felt like I knew him well. Most interesting was his early years and how he grew up in the South. His family was quite eccentric and wealthy. I think he was a person who channeled music (like Hendrix, and some others). He came, played, and "went home".
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Old 07-30-2009, 06:07 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Classof75 View Post
This is a great biography. After reading this book (Twenty Thousand Roads), I felt like I knew him well. Most interesting was his early years and how he grew up in the South. His family was quite eccentric and wealthy. I think he was a person who channeled music (like Hendrix, and some others). He came, played, and "went home".
It's quite a story isn't it? Biopic kinda material really. Just found the thing on amazon - the second I get a bit of cash in, I'm on it. There won't be a whole lot of trivia to these reviews, just a bit of necessary back-story and then down to the song-by-song nitty-gritty.
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Old 07-30-2009, 08:46 AM   #8 (permalink)
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The International Submarine Band
Safe At Home
1967, LHI Records

1. Blue Eyes [Parsons]
2. I Must Be Somebody Else You've Known [Haggard]
3. A Satisfied Mind [Hayes/Rhodes]
4. Medley: Folsom Prison Blues/That's All Right, Mama [Cash/Crudup]
5. Miller's Cave [Clement]
6. I Still Miss Someone [Cash/Cash]
7. Luxury Liner [Parsons]
8. Strong Boy [Parsons]
9. Do You Know How It Feels to Be Lonesome [Parsons/Goldberg]

And so it is that the musical story of Gram Parsons begins, with the prospect of Parsons, at the ripe old age of 21, basically (with the help of his bandmates) forged the country rock movement of the late 60s and early 70s. This came about simply by surrounding four Parsons originals with five country classics and running them with a rock 'n' roll motor.

By the time recording first began in the July of '67, the International Submarine Band (ISB for short) were already in decline through a lack of commercial success and as such only consisted of vocalist, rhythm guitarist and principle songwriter Parsons alongside lead guitarist John Nuese. Needless to say, in order to go about recording an album the way the two pictured it being, session musicians such as drummer Jon Corneal, bassist Joe Osborn, pedal steel guitarist Jay Dee Maness and pianist Earl Ball filled in the gaps. In between gigging the album sessions as, one by one, the components of a revolutionary LP piled up.

As the country rock tag that it created may suggest, the results are a marrying of rock-type instrumentation and the unique twist that the sound typical of classic country gives off. It is, however, not so obvious to start with, as the sound and tone of the Parsons original that opens the record, Blue Eyes, is very much rooted in country alone, with the kind of silky-smooth pedal steel that punctuates a mid-tempo song with the kind of yearning and sorrow at its core that would dominate a lot of Parsons' later material. The superb rendition of Merle Haggard's I Must Be Somebody Else You've Known is a much more obvious show of this new twist on country music with the lively rock 'n' roll rhythm and piano going in tandem with the unmistakable sound of the pedal steel.

In fact, principally it's the covers where the country rock genre-hybrid is easier to hear. The old standard of a Satisfied Mind is an exception though, with a much gentler and more contemplative feel to it typical of a lot of classic country (or at least from what I've heard anyway - I won't pretend I'm an expert or anything). The medley of Johnny Cash and Arthur Crudup though, Folsom Prison Blues/That's All Right Mama, is much more in touch with my point about this album though, again showing off Parsons' trademark soaring kind of vocal over a rhythm typical of 1st wave rockabilly with Maness' pedal steel adding to the sonic picture. The rendition of Jack Clement's Miller's Cave though, aside from being one of my favourite country songs, eases along to a slightly more laid-back beat, and stands out being sandwiched between two Johnny Cash covers as it is, the second of these being I Still Miss Someone - another show of how much good a rock 'n' roll band can serve to a country song.

To put the lid on the record are three more Gram Parsons songs, the first of these being the classic Luxury Liner - an often-covered little number a lot more in tune with the energy and high tempos of rockabilly than country. The same can be said of Strong Boy, with the way the bass and piano go hand-in-hand as the sparingly-used pedal steel, pushed quite low in the mix as it is here, goes about giving another great song that extra spice. Do You Know How It Feels To Be Lonesome, a co-write between Parsons and rock 'n' roll producer Barry Goldberg, gives Safe At Home its gentle, painfully sorrowful closer. With its touching harmonies and effective-in-its-simplicity instrumentation (wherein, again, the pedal steel doesn't play so much of a part), its the first in a series of absolutely beautiful Gram Parsons ballads (which made for one of his many strengths as a songwriter and performer).

Safe At Home is, then, basically what you'd expect from any singer-songwriter's first album - an effort that doesn't exactly break a sweat to disguise its influences as the artist in question tries to find his feet in long-play format. It's also a lot like country rock itself, that is to say half-and-half between country and rock. Where a selection of songs are delivered in that laid-back, c&w kind of way, the other selection are given the energy boost that comes from rock 'n' roll itself. To wrap this up then, it's not the best album Parsons was ever involved in but, being quite possibly the pioneering album of the genre (it was only released late because of the legal consequences of Parsons' recording with the Byrds just after he'd finished this album), it is definitely a good starting point for anyone looking to get into country. Even if it's not exactly a classic, it's still a very good album and one that shows the earliest signs of Gram Parsons' strengths as a singer and songwriter. Plus, it's only 25 minutes long in total, so it's not exactly demanding a lot of your time eh.

7/10




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Old 07-31-2009, 02:52 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Coming soon...



^ Nice little teaser for anyone interested. If the boards are quiet enough, I suppose I'll the next review tonight. Either way, stay tuned!
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Old 08-01-2009, 11:31 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Great YouTube links! Just found a minty copy (vinyl) of Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Gonna check it out tonight. Looking foward to your review(s). Thanks for this thread.
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