Music

Various Artists: Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons

John G. Nettles

Various Artists

Return of the Grievous Angel: a Tribute to Gram Parsons

Label: Almo Sounds
US Release Date: 2007-02-28
Amazon
iTunes

Aside from the fact that someone has yet macheted Carson Daly's head like an overripe guava on national TV for the good of mankind, perhaps the biggest travesty in modern music is the flood of "tribute" albums currently glutting the record stores. For the most part these "tributes" are basically songs by a particular well-known artist covered by bands you never heard of, in the vain hope that rabid Springsteen and Zeppelin completists will be so impressed by the covers that they'll go out and buy these unknown bands' original product. Godspeed, fellas -- nothing will impress me less than hearing "Misty Mountain Hop" covered one more time by (insert generic band name here) except maybe your attempt to pass off this cynical parasitism as some kind of "tribute". The tribute album, at its most noble, works the opposite way: name artists, ones who actually sell albums, come together to show their love for the work of lesser-known or forgotten musical luminaries who inspired them. Teenaged U2 fans buy Red, Hot + Blue to hear Bono mumble his way through "Night and Day" and get turned on to the music of Cole Porter -- that's how it's supposed to work.

Return of the Grievous Angel is a tribute album in the best sense, evoking the spirit of one of the most influential yet largely forgotten pop warriors of our time, Gram Parsons. Parsons is one of those people you stumble upon when you're playing the "influences" game -- only it's startling to see just how many people can claim lineage from the output of his relatively short career. Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, Dwight Yoakam, the whole alt-country crowd, all of them draw from the welding of country music and rock that Parsons achieved while a member of the Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, as well as on the two solo albums he cut before his fatal overdose in 1973, at the age of 26. Keith Richards wrote "Wild Horses" for Parsons to use. Parsons discovered both Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. And on and on. "Twenty thousand roads I went down down down," Parsons sang, "and they all led me straight back home to you."

It's Emmylou Harris who, as executive producer, is responsible for this album, the realization of an obsessive imperative she held onto for some 26 years, to keep Parsons' music alive. She could not have assembled a better collection of songs or artists to aid in the recovery. In addition, she lends her considerable vocal talents to three of the tracks, dueting with Chrissie Hynde ("She"), Sheryl Crow ("Juanita"), and, of all people, Beck ("Sin City" -- who knew Beck could pull off a straight gospel ballad so well?).

The album is a terrific mix of artists from across the pop spectrum, Parsons' old cronies working with his disciples. Chris Hillman, an ex-Byrd who co-founded the Burritos and was Parsons' main writing partner, trades vocals with Steve Earle on "High Fashion Queen", while David Crosby backs Lucinda Williams on the title track -- in my opinion the strongest track in an album full of strong tracks. Wilco weighs in with a steamroller version of "One Hundred Years from Now" and Whiskeytown's cover of "A Song for You" is just beautiful. A pair of dark horses -- Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield doing "Should've Been a Funeral" and Elvis Costello in full mournful-crooner drag on "Sleepless Nights" -- acquit themselves wonderfully.

This is not to say that there aren't weak spots here. The Mavericks' straight version of "Hot Burrito #1" sounds like they used Glen Campbell's phone to call it in, and the Cowboy Junkies' slick, effects-heavy cover of "Ooh Las Vegas" is guaranteed to irk purists in the crowd, though Margo Timmins' voice has never sounded better.

The album closes with a pair of heart-grabbers, Gillian Welch's sonorous rendering of the song perhaps most associated with Parsons, "Hickory Wind", and the Rolling Creekdippers' take on the elegiac "In My Hour of Darkness", with its second verse about a simple country boy who became a star -- "And the music he had in him / So very few possess" -- taking on the appropriate dimensions of reference (and reverence) for Parsons himself. But somehow these tracks, like the rest of the album, manages this kind of soul-stirring without becoming maudlin.

Return of the Grievous Angel should satisfy the most diehard of Parsons' fans while introducing his music to legions of young alt-country fans, who've basically been listening to him all along, who'll now know who to thank. That's what a tribute does best.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image