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2023/4 Albums Thing 267 - Gram Parsons “Grievous Angel”

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Gram Parsons 2nd solo album was released in January 1974, exactly a year after his first. Even though Gram now had his own band, the Fallen Angels, who he had toured with in 1973 (we’ll get to that shortly) the only member of the Fallen Angels to appear on “Grievous Angel” is Emmylou Harris.

Of his two solo albums this is my favourite. The first lyrics of opening song “Return Of The Grievous Angel” paint a vivid scene for me

Won't you scratch my itch, sweet Annie Rich, And welcome me back to town?

Come out on your porch or step into your parlor, And I'll tell you how it all went down

Porches, parlours, possible tales of adventure…I’m in, let’s go. The song rolls on and as we approach a natural point for a solo or middle eight Gram laconically calls “Pick it for me James” and James Burton lays down a beauty of solo which is then picked up on by Byron Berline’s Fiddle and then Al Perkins on the Pedal Steel.

The album is an almost equal split between uptempo thigh-slappers and gorgeous ballads. Both styles are exemplified by the “fake live” pair of “Cash On The Barrelhead/Hickory Wind”. The former a proper rollicking dance tune and tale of being arrested and offered either 40 days in the Jailhouse or “Cash on the barrelhead son”, the second part being a superb duet between Gram and Emmylou on a song that Gram wrote with Bob Buchanan for The Byrds album “Sweetheart Of the Rodeo”. I’m still not sure why it was felt it needed a fake, drunk Honky Tonk audience adding to it, but hey…

That is followed by an utterly devastating version of Boudeleaux Bryant’s beautiful “Love Hurts”. It’s been covered so many times it almost counts as a standard these days. Roy Orbison, Jim Capaldi, Nazareth, Cher, Don McLean, Jennifer Warnes, Joan Jett, hell even The Who have had a go at it. However many versions there are you’ll find it hard to find a better one than Gram and Emmylou’s.

The other killer ballad is “$1000 Wedding” the heartbreaking story of a groom left at the altar by his bride to be…or is it, it could easily be about a funeral and therein lies some of the wonder in Gram’s lyrics. The protagonist obviously doesn’t take either option well “I hate to tell you how he acted when the news arrived, He took some friends out drinking and it's lucky they survived” Gram and Emmylou tell us, their voices meshing perfectly, it gives me the shivers every time I hear it.

We finish on two more Gram and Emmylou masterclasses. “Las Vegas” is a song we’ve talked about before here because Emmylou recorded a version on her album “Elite Hotel”. The story of a gamblers life on the Vegas strip takes on another dimension sung by Gram. Last song “In My Hour Of Darkness” was written by Gram and Emmylou and is a modern day hymn sung in chorus with added Linda Ronstadt.  

“Grievous Angel” is a collection of fantastic songs performed wonderfully by some very skilled musicians. It was Grams’ last record, released posthumously in January 1974. Gram was declared dead at Yucca Valley Hospital, California at 15 minutes past midnight on 19th September 1973, aged 26. The official cause of death was an overdose of morphine and alcohol. Without Gram Parsons The Byrds don’t make “Sweetheart Of the Rodeo”, there is no Flying Buritto Brothers, the Rolling Stones likely don’t have their dalliances with Country Music or write “Wild Horses”. He shall always be another of those “what could have been” stories for me…sadly we’ll never know.

Return Of The Grievous Angel - https://youtu.be/h_Iz0iVvhEc?si=k6SbMGq3teCVQFeN

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