"'Return of Grievous Angel' Soars as Parsons Tribute"

06 Aug "'Return of Grievous Angel' Soars as Parsons Tribute"

Yakima Herald-Republic
By Tim Anderson

Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons/Almo Sounds (Four Stars)

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of his death, “Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons” has been released to much fanfare and well-deserved publicity.

Gram Parsons’ life was the stuff of which legends, as well as myths, are made. At the beginning of his professional career, in the mid-’60s, he was intent on breaking down the walls of music in its various forms. And that he did in grand style.

Refusing to be pigeonholed, Parsons crossed defiantly across rock ‘n roll, R&B, folk and country while openly challenging critics. His attitude was much like the singer he saw at his school auditorium when he was 9 years old: Elvis Presley.

Always a rebel, once Parsons got his foot in the door of the music business, he seemed to want it all: fame, fortune, respect and all the excesses that came with it. Like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, Parsons sank into massive drug and alcohol abuse, dying at the age of 27. And like Hendrix, Joplin and Curt Cobain, Parsons’ legacy has grown to mythological proportions since his death.

His music not only made an impact on the entertainment industry, but the manner in which he died and was subsequently buried would make a good “B” movie.

In a well-documented and much-publicized case, his road manager, Phil Kaufmann, removed his body from where it was buried and took it to California’s Joshua Tree Monument, where it was cremated. Kaufmann was imprisoned for his crime but has never regretted his actions, because as he recounted in his biography, “Road Mangler Deluxe”: “We made a deal. We were not going to let him go back to New Orleans.” Dramatic references aside, though, Parsons’ death was as much a blow to the music industry as the loss of the artists mentioned above. His influences continue to be felt and his peers continue to keep the flame of his greatness lit even today.

He first gained some of the recognition he was seeking when he joined the Byrds in 1968, but he left that ground-breaking country- rock band just three months later. Then, along with Chris Hillman, who had also left that group, he formed the Flying Burrito Brothers.

The band’s first release was “The Gilded Palace of Sin,” released in 1969. Only one other album was released by the band, 1970’s “Burrito Deluxe.” Emmylou Harris, who served as co-producer of “Return” with Paul Kremen, was Parsons’ protege and duet partner on two of his albums, GP (1972) and Grievous Angel (1974), released after his death in September 1973. Harris’personal connection with the acclaimed “Father of Country Rock” prompted Kremen to enlist her aid in the project, first conceived in 1995. Harris came aboard two years later.

Once Harris and Kremen came together, the two started a list of artists they wanted for the project – ones who are renegades themselves, much like Parsons.

Since Parsons’ death there have been many tributes released paying homage to a wide variety of singers and musicians. But this project is much closer to the bone, meaning there are no culls.

Of the 13 cuts on this CD, not one is a dud. Each single could stand on its own because of the diversity of the artists performing the songs and the integrity of the production.

Drawing from a wide swath of the musical landscape, Kremen and Harris enlisted such luminaries as the Pretenders (for “She”), Beck (“Sin City,” with Harris), the Mavericks (“Hot Burrito #1”), Chris Hillman/Steve Earle (“High Fashion Queen”), Sheryl Crow (“Juanita,” with Harris), Elvis Costello (“Sleepless Nights”), Lucinda Williams and David Crosby (“Return of the Grievous Angel”), and Wilco (“100 Years”).

Each artist has either had a personal connection with Parsons or been greatly influenced by his music.

This release will, most definitely, enable others to enjoy the early works of Gram Parsons, while listening to fresh approaches to a small body of music that has become timeless as well as classic. I give “Return” a whole-hearted and enthusiastic two thumbs up.