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GP/Grievous Angel
Gram Parsons

(Grievous Angel) Reprise 2171
Released: January 1974
Chart Peak: #195
Weeks Charted: 3

Gram Parsons(GP) Remember the old Naked City introduction? Well, there are eight million solo albums by former group members that prove such people were better off in groups, and this has been one of them. But that's unfair. What I mean is, pop music would be better off with Gram Parsons singing in the Byrds or Burritos than it is with him singing solo. He's so unsteady as a vocalist that his singing is a constant distraction. Beyond that, GP is one of those steel-guitar rock/steel-guitar country (the terms are just are just about interchangeable) albums in which several people avoid doing any real work on the arrangements because one person (here it's sometimes Al Perkins, sometimes Buddy Emmons) is willing to toil timelessly over a pedal steel. "Still Feeling Blue," the first song encountered, is the only spot where Parsons' new country solo style really does anything for me. Beyond that, it's a case of too many of my prejudices being badgered at the same time.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 8/73.

Bonus Reviews!

(GP) In which Parsons stakes his claim to everything he loves about country music -- its bathos, its moral fervor, its sense of peril. Whether he's replicating these qualities in his own songs or finding them in the genuine article, his interpretations achieve the sythesis of skepticism and longing that drove him to devise country-rock in the first place. Physically, he isn't always up to what he knows -- that's a folkie's voice cracking on "She" -- but he can be proud that the only track here that beats Tompall Glaser's "Streets of Baltimore" is his own "Kiss the Children." B+

(Grievous Angel) On GP, Emmylou Harris was a backup musician; here she cuts Parson's soulfully dilettantish quaver with dry, dulcet mountain spirituality. On GP, Parsons was undeviating in his dolor; here he opens up the honky tonks, if only to announce that he can't dance. The best Gram Parsons album -- and hence the best country-rock album -- since Gilded Palace of Sin, with all that irony and mystery translated from metaphor into narrative. A

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

(Grievous Angel) Bob Tubert's liner notes, heavy with drugstore profundity on the subject of fame, push the idea that Charlie Rich would rather hide away in Benton, Arkansas, than enjoy all this notoriety as one of the real big studs of country music. There's something to that: many country stars, with such a success as "Lonely Weekends" under their belts, even if it was back in the Fifties, would be blind from flashbulb glare by now. But Charlie did take the trouble to answer some inane questions for the making of the little "bonus" record stuck in with this album, and I saw an article somewhere recently in which Charlie apparently said he'd always thought of himself as a jazz singer, or something like that, and I believe he even showed up in such places as Bobby Goldsboro's syndicated television show, which I suspect is secretly being produced by Bobby Goldsboro's hair designer. So watch out when dealing with simple country folk, lest they pull some sly old-boy stuff on you.

The thing about this album, coming as it does in the thick of Rich's winning three Country Music Association awards for 1973, including Male Vocalist of the Year, is that it isn't a country album at all. Rich swings at the keyboards a time or two, and his singing has a textural integrity that won't be denied, but the whole thing is much too polite and frilly and slick. The fact that Rich, who's into this kind of thing, and Roy Clark, who's into it even worse, were the big country-music award winners of the year must mean something about where "official" Nashville's head is during these troubled times in which nobody seems to know just what the country-music audience wants. This album is flat, predictable, and innocuous -- which is not at all like my impression of Rich himself. Come on, Nashville, get a grip on yourself.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 6/74.

(Grievous Angel) For an artist whose death received more news coverage than his life, Gram Parsons had a great impact on the development of rock. Through his work with his International Submarine Band, the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Emmylou Harris, Parsons pioneered the cause of country-rock. Some Southern-born artists performed with natural appeal to fans in both fields, but Parsons mixed musical styles with great effect.

His legacy survived the hijacking and cremation of his own corpse. Emmylou Harris incorporated most of his repertoire into her own and became a major crossover star. The Eagles recorded Bernie Leadon's tribute to Gram, "My Man." Three of the song that had been recorded for Grievous Angel wound up on the 1976 Flying Burrito Brothers compilation Sleepless Nights. Angel itself was recently re-issued in Britain.

In 1987, Grievous Angel was chosen by a panel of rock critics and music broadcasters as the #44 rock album of all time.

- Paul Gambaccini, The Top 100 Rock 'n' Roll Albums of All Time, Harmony Books, 1987.

The disparity between Parsons's influence and his public awareness may be greater than that of any contemporary musician. His brief, highly individualistic, intense life probably accounts for much of it. Yet, he's a guy who turned the Byrds from a folk/rock band to the founders of country/rock with Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Out of that, for better and worse, a whole L.A.-based school of contemporary music has evolved. Parsons's cult following is principally built on these, his only two major studio releases, which make for a perfect pairing on CD. His voice isn't the equal of his aesthetic, but most of the time his heartfelt commitment to the material more than gets him through. He also judiciously teamed up with newcomer Emmylou Harris, who provides her crystalline country support. The choice of musicians is also hard to fault: James Burton's guitar, Al Perkins, Buddy Emmons, and Byron Berline. There are twenty tracks on this disc, twelve of which were written or cowritten by Parsons. The remaining are drawn from an interesting cross-section of country writers: Tompall Glaser, Tom T. Hall, Peter Wolff, Seth Justman, the Louvin Brothers, and Boudleaux Bryant. There are some magic moments and some near misses, but overall, it's a wondrous compilation of country rock. Given the vintage of these recordings, their sound is impressive. Sonically, Grievous Angel, because it's not quite as bright as GP, gets the nod, and the material on that album is a bit stronger than on GP. A

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

Parson's two best albums appear on one compact disc. Seeking to synthesize his own ideas with those of classic country and rock, Parsons hired Merle Haggard's recording engineer (he had approached Haggard himself about producing) and members of Elvis Presley's band, including pianist Glen D. Hardin and guitarist James Burton. The result had its roots in everything but sounded like nothing else. Parson's songs were the musings of a wounded soul, and his taste in others' material ran from Harlan Howard to The J. Geils Band. On Grievous Angel, Emmylou Harris emerges from the background to provide an angelic foil for Parsons's lost folkie voice. * * * * *

- Brian Mansfield, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

G.P./Grievous Angel is a twofer classic that combines Parsons' two solo albums. California country-rock doesn't come more influential than this. * * * * *

- Brian Mansfield, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

(GP) Graham Parsons wanted to create Cosmic American Music, but ended up giving Country & Western a new lease of life and giving birth to country-rock. Having introduced both Jim McGuinn (and the Byrds) and Keith Richard to country music, Parsons took the ultimate career step in 1974 when he died of a rock star lifestyle and became, like Jim Morrison, a hero to foolish boys and aspiring sad-songwriters. Not that Parsons would have cared. A rich kid with a love of blue-collar songs, his affection for traditional country music is clear on GP. The familiar C&W roadsigns -- heartbreak, ill-fated affairs, alcohol-soaked remorse -- are all there. But, with the help of Elvis' backing band and Emmylou Harris' crystal clear harmonies, Parsons reinvents them. Parsons' voice is tentative and fragile on "A Song For You." Emmylou Harris' pure vocals add an extra dimension to songs such as "We'll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning," "That's All It Took" and "The New Soft Shoe," the latter also featuring some shimmering pedal steel. World-weary reflection is Parson's ace card. GP remains a unique, groundbreaking country record.

- Collins Gem Classic Albums, 1999.

(Grievous Angel) The father of alt-country conveys a breathtaking lyricism with tales of hard drinking, love gone sour and salvation on the prairie on this beautiful posthumous release. The visionary pioneer's magnificent duets with Emmylou Harris blazed a heavenly trail of true American music taken up by Son Volt, Wilco and Lucinda Williams, his legacies. Listen to Parsons' haunting voice on songs that would make Hank Williams proud and weep for his untimely death. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

(Grievous Angel) Parsons helped invent country rock with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, but he perfected it here. Emmylou Harris was his ideal singing partner, and their voices blend in the high lonesome wail of "Brass Buttons" and "$1,000 Wedding." Weeks after finishing the album, Parsons was dead at twenty-six.

Grievous Angel was chosen as the 429th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

(Grievous Angel) With the last album he recorded before his death in 1973 -- it was released posthumously in 1974 -- Gram Parsons showed not only that he had invented country rock, but also that nobody would do it better.

By this point Parsons, Keith Richards' citrus-heir drug-buddy, had assembled the perfect team around him. Emmylou Harris' pure singing is there every time Parsons himself sounds a little ragged, and the band includes several members of Elvis' Vegas band.

Elvis and his drug problems crop up allusively on the lovely "Return Of The Grievous Angel," an epic journey around the United States that, like The Wizard Of Oz, concludes that there is no place like home. This is mostly a mournful album, ranging from the gently regretful "Brass Buttons" (about Parsons' mother) to the bitter, compelling "$1,000 Wedding," the one song on the album that would have suited Parsons' friends, The Rolling Stones. In a gesture that has prompted some fans to think that he saw his end coming, the album even includes a faux-live revisiting of one of Parsons' best early songs, "Hickory Wind" (from the Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo). There are some rocker moments -- "I Can't Dance" and the frantic "Ooh Las Vegas" -- but they do not change the mood.

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Much admired by his peers, when they were not fed up with his spoiled-kid ways, Parsons never became a star in his lifetime. But his influence continued to seep through: into rock via the Eagles and the Stones and later Elvis Costello, The Lemonheads, and The Thrills, to name just a few, and back into country via his muse Emmylou Harris.

- Mark Morris, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

After helping the Byrds go country with Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and then founding the short-lived but brilliant Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons (1946-1973) went under the radar for a while in the late '60s. A free spirit who struggled with addiction -- he died after overdosing on morphine and tequila in the desert near California's Joshua Tree National Park -- Parsons lost a year or more partying. He spent time hanging out with the Rolling Stones during the making of Exile on Main Street, and performed occasionally but wasn't inclined to write or record his own work until 1972, when he heard Emmylou Harris singing at a Washington, D.C., folk bar called Clyde's. Her sturdy, unaffected voice hit something in him: "I found a chick singer who's real good who I want to sing with," Parsons told an inteviewer in the spring of 1972. "If you get a really good chick, it works better than anything because you can look a each other with love in your eyes."

Love, along with longing and a loner's isolation, defines what Parsons did next -- GP, one of the most quietly visionary debuts of the 1970s. Parsons hated the term "country-rock." He described his patchwork of weepy country ballads, careening blues, and up-tempo rambles as "cosmic American music," and he worked to heighten those mystic elements, particularly when singing with Harris. On the two-stepping "That's All It Took" and "A Song for You," the duo sounds like veterans of the country road show; one soars while the other keeps a foot on the earth.

GP is the mother lode of Parsons's songwriting, a series of sketches from a wide-open stylistic frontier that would soon, with the arrival of the Eagles, become one of the defining sounds of the '70s. Though the follow-up Grievous Angel contains several originals, including the haunting closer Parsons and Harris wrote together, "In My Hour of Darkness," it primarily shows Parsons's knack for personalizing other people's music. Among its killers: a wrenching rendition of Boudleaux Bryant's "Love Hurts" (a song memorably cut by the Everly Brothers) and a raucous treatment of Tom T. Hall's "I Can't Dance."

- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.

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