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Gram Parsons

The Complete Reprise Sessions – 2006 (Rhino)

Reviewed by Stuart Munro

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CDs by Gram Parsons

What do you get when you combine the sort of uber-fandom that surrounds Gram Parsons with the paucity of material he released due to an untimely death? Inevitably, the hope that somehow, somewhere, in some musty record company vault, there are hitherto-unheard gems just waiting to be discovered. In Parsons' case, that hope has gone pretty much unconsummated; 1976 saw the appearance of three songs that didn't make it onto his second solo effort, "Grevious Angel," and since then, basically...nothing.

Rhino's new arch deluxe box set, then, might seem at first glance to have hit the mother lode. The two superb records Parsons released under his own name (which, of course, also introduced the name "Emmylou Harris" to the world) were previously issued on CD as a twofer; this set lovingly restores them to their separate glory, complete with remastering, replicas of the original LP sleeves, bonus material (mainly interview excerpts, but also a couple of songs from a radio appearance, highlighted by Parsons and Harris dueting on "Sin City"), and an elegant booklet of photos and commentary. And it includes a full disc of recently-unearthed "alternate versions," apparently vocal takes and rough mixes made in the course of working out and recording material for both of those releases.

Alas, while the results are not exactly fool's gold, they don't reveal the richest of veins, either. There's no "new" material here. And while a few of the tracks show interesting variations (and a few were better left in the vaults), for the most part, these takes add little to their released counterparts. They might provide an occasional diversion, but to hear the artistry that Parsons and Harris created together in its full glory, you'll find yourself returning to what ended up on those two records.