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Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels

Live 1973 – 1997 (Rhino)

Reviewed by Bill Sacks

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CDs by Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels

This recording, originally simulcast on WLIR-FM from a "live inthe studio" performance on March 13, 1973, documents a strange, nervousand ultimately brilliant moment in American music history: here were GramParsons and Emmylou Harris, backed by a first-rate road band, importing anovel vision of country music's appeal to an audience of curious Long Islanders. The form and style Parsons loved were widely regarded as deeply partisan stuff in places like Hempstead, N.Y.; the tradition from which he took his cue was not cultural space where Yankees of any class were meant to rest with easily, which is to say nothing of most rock & rollers.

In the face of that musical divide, Parsons proffered a catalog of songs which spoke frankly about matters of the flesh (in that sense, he was the direct inheritor of George Jones' most daring work on Mercury from the previous decade) and did not flinch from the sight of emotional rot.

There was also his traditionalist's fascination with the corruptingpower of brightly lit spectacles, rendered here in the fine versions of"Big Mouth Blues" and "Streets of Baltimore." It was in those spaces whereParsons found himself feeling restless, and the sense of tension hemanaged to project from lyrics about them was both palpable and tragic.Looking back on his legend and its influence after more than two decades,it seems that his courage should be measured in terms of that palpability.It is the primary explanation for why he was met with such amazing andunlikely enthusiasm by his audience on this particular night.

The bulk of the show's material is drawn from "GP," thoughrighteous versions of "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man" and "Six Days On TheRoad" harken back to his seminal tenures with The Byrds and Burritos.Other highlights include a charge through "Cry One More Time" featuring steel player Neil Flanz betraying the influence of Duane Allman on his phrasing after years of decidedly traditional work behind Charlie Louvin; renditions of "We'll Sweep Out The Ashes" and "The New Soft Shoe" easily equaling the beauty of the studio takes' vocal harmonies - Harris' singing is already remarkably mature at this point, and her contributions throughout are central; and the cautionary tale "CaliforniaCottonfields" (Merle Haggard's recording is possibly the starkestself-reflection ever captured in a Bakersfield studio) that suggests thefull range of Parsons' most serious concerns. In all, a mesmerizingsnapshot of innovators at work.