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Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons

music reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons

Artist: Various
Genre: Rock/Pop
Release Date: July 1999

Review by LarryG
3 stars out of 4

Return of the Grievous Angel is a fitting salute to a great songwriter who made roots rock or country rock, before those terms existed, in the late 60's and early 70's with the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and in his solo work. He tragically died of an overdose at 26 in 1973. All the artists on Return of the Grievous Angel clearly have an affection for Gram Parsons and the record has a heartfelt, positive feeling even on the sad songs. As with any tribute record, the quality of the record varies according to the level of each contribution but the quality of Parsons' songs is always high and most of the new versions are very good.

The best songs on Return of the Grievous Angel have a little edge and go beyond what Parsons did. Cowboy Junkies show their skill at giving a song a haunting edge on Ooh Las Vegas. Michael Timmins' psychedelic guitar creates the feeling that going to Vegas is a hallucinogenic experience. His sister Margo sings, it ain't no place for a pretty little girl, but her voice says she's already seduced. The Mavericks who, like Parsons, work in a world in between country and rock sound particularly comfortable with Hot Burrito #1(I'm Your Toy). Raul Malo's sometimes too smooth singing is roughed up by edgy percussion and steel guitar. Elvis Costello, who did Hot Burrito #1 on his Almost Blue record, continues to be grow as a crooner. Sleepless Nights sounds like an Elvis Costello ballad, but a really good one. Costello does a restrained, touching vocal on the simple sad song about missing someone. The arrangement is very low key with a little steel guitar for texture and Costello playing his own simple piano. Lucinda Williams' version of the title track, with David Crosby on harmonies, has the same natural beauty of her Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. The song is about coming home to true love after traveling all around the country. Williams sings the brilliantly simple line, "20,000 roads I went down, they all lead me straight back home to you". Wilco, clearly fans of the Parsons oeuvre, make a fun southern rock raveup of One Hundred Years From Now. Whiskeytown are a pleasant surprise, giving A Song For You the sad, reflective mood it deserves. Evan Dando, like Parsons did, has a natural talent for writing a great, simple song that is often sabotaged by substance abuse and other distractions. He does an low key, poignant version of $1,000 Wedding, the sad story of a wedding that didn't happen. Steve Earle, another formerly hard living kindred spirit of Parsons, does a easy, honky tonk version of High Fashion Queen, about going out to try to replace the one that left him, with Chris Hillman, Parsons' bandmate from the Byrds and Flying Burritos. In My Hour of Darkness concludes Return of the Grievous Angel with a nice, positive mood. Victoria Williams, her husband ex-Jayhawk Mark Olson, Buddy and Julie Miller and Jim Lauderdale create a relaxed, democratic mood sharing the vocals on Parsons' humble request to God for vision and strength.

The worst thing you can say about Return of the Grievous Angel is that a few of the songs are pleasant but not particularly exciting. Beck and Emmylou Harris do a straight version of Sin City with Beck sounding very serious as he sings "Satan is waiting his turn" and "your gold plated door won't keep out the lord's burning rain." His band, with fiddle and pedal steel, sound like an authentic country band. Chrissie Hynde comfortably adds her always strong personality to the nice, if slight, ballad She. Sheryl Crow & Emmylou Harris do a sincere, fairly predictable version of Juanita. Gillian Welch takes her very unadorned, affected hillbilly style to Hickory Wind, which leaves me as cold as her own compositions.

Return of the Grievous Angel is a very good introduction and tribute to a great talent who created a lot of brilliant songs in a fairly short period. The very gifted fans who perform on the record do a good job of showing why they love Parsons and why his songs still matter.



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