Friday, February 17, 2023

The Albums of 1973: Gram Parsons: GP

Released: January 1973

Produced by Gram Parsons and Ric Grech

Side One: Still Feeling Blue; We'll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning; A Song For You; Streets of Baltimore; She

Side Two: That's All it Took; The New Soft Shoe; Kiss the Children; Cry One More Time; How Much I've Lied; Big Mouth Blues

The music of Gram Parsons (1946-1973) has cast a wide net in rock history in terms of influence. Peers considered him a visionary and every new generation eventually discovers him. 

Parsons was the scion of a wealthy Southern family in Georgia. As a youth he played in various folk bands and got admitted to Harvard but left after one semester. He joined the International Submarine Band which released the album Safe at Home in 1967 which sold poorly. The following year he became an unofficial member of The Byrds for the recording of Sweetheart of the Rodeo, their highly acclaimed country rock album. From there he joined the The Flying Burrito Brothers who continued to evolve the country rock sound (a term that annoyed Parsons). He was also a close associate of The Rolling Stones and joined them in France for the recording of Exile on Main Street. But his indulgence in drugs and alcohol was too much even for the Stones and got himself banished from their circle. 

GP was recorded in September-October 1972 in Hollywood. Given a solo deal with Warner Bros records, Parsons assembled three members of Elvis Presley's band with Emmylou Harris to join him on vocals - of course Harris went on to an amazing career. More straight up country than his previous work, like his previous albums it sold poorly but received high acclaim. 

In "Still Feeling Blue" Parsons reflects on loneliness after his girl left, lyrically like Neil Young's "Oh Lonesome Me." Parsons and Harris swap verses on the bittersweet "We'll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning." On "A Song for You" Parsons melancholy vocal is combined with surreal imagery. Tompall Glaser and Harlan Howard's "Streets of Baltimore" is covered nicely with Harris and Parsons in duet. "She" is a wonderful recording, a highlight of the record, delightfully in some zone between country and rock. 

A reverential version of "That's All it Took" by George Jones opens the second side, "The New Soft Shoe" is a placid, more laid back ballad. "Kiss the Children" has an estranged husband addressing his wife in a debauched stated, "one more night like this would put me six feet under." "Cry One More Time" is more of an R&B track. Parsons embodies a careless but sincere persona on "How Much I've Had to Lie." "Big Mouth Blues" is fanciful Chuck Berry homage by way of Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. 

Any listener of GP will immediately recognize its influence and Parsons unique gifts as a singer/songwriter. He would record one more solo album Grievous Angel, released posthumously in 1974. On September 19, 1973, during one of his trips to Joshua Tree National Park, he overdosed on drugs on alcohol at age 26. A senseless loss that left a pall over the music scene in the decades to come. 

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