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Music Review: Gram Parsons – The Complete Reprise Sessions

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Several weeks ago I completed a thirteen part retrospective of the major album releases in The Byrds catalogue. While Gram Parsons was with the group for only a short period of time, his contributions would help pave the way in the development of the fusion of rock and country music. At the time I made a mental note to visit some of his solo material in the near future and so here we are.

Gram Parsons left behind quite a legacy, having died at the young age of 26. He was a member of The International Submarine Band, The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and performed as a solo artist. He traveled and partied with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and was a drug addict, which would ultimately cost him his life. Through it all he created wonderful music that fit his gentle vocals.

The Complete Reprise Sessions gathers together the two studio albums that Parsons recorded for the Reprise label, each of which comes with a number of bonus tracks. A third disc is included which provides 18 rare and alternate versions of many of his songs. GP and Grievous Angel are a wonderful look into the mid and music of Gram Parsons shortly before his death in 1976.

Country star Emmylou Harris was a part of Parsons musical entourage at the time and she was the creative force behind this release plus also serves as its co-producer. The two albums come in separate packages with the original art work intact. The accompanying booklet contains many rare pictures plus a nice biography of Parsons and the music contained within. It is the clarity of the music that really stands out however. The tracks have been re-mastered so that every nuance of the music and vocals come together as they were originally intended.

GP comes very close to being a classic modern day country album. “We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning” features a classic duet between Harris and Parsons. Their voices on “A Song For You” run counterpoint to each other. While they were close in age, the hard living was catching up with him. Her voice is fresh and new while his is forlorn and straining which ends up creating a memorable listening experience. “Big Mouth Blues” is an up-tempo tribute to his southern roots.

Grievous Angel was the most consistent work released by him and serves as his musical epitaph. He seems to have been in a better place emotionally and physically as his vocals are purer than on GP and the songs are universally strong, well chosen, and fit together well. The most memorable track is “In My Hour Of Darkness” which serves as a eulogy for three dead friends and as the last track on the original release would be like a coffin lid closing on his own career and life.

The third disc of alternate versions is interesting but pales next to the original albums. The best of the tracks are the three songs by Boudleaux Bryant and his wife Felice. “Sleepless Nights,” “Brand New Heartache,” and especially “Love Hurts” all stand on their own very nicely.

If you want to explore the legacy of Gram Parsons The Complete Reprise Sessions is a good place to start. There is a lot of good music contained in this nice little box set which is also a poignant reminder of the fragility of life.  

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