Gram Parsons - Grievous Angel | Releases | Discogs

2020 Album Draft- Round 2- Pick 6- Music City Mike -Selects- Gram Parsons- Grievous Angel.

Music City Mike’s blog can be found at – https://musiccitymike.net/

The first time I ever heard the name Gram Parsons was when I read in Circus magazine that he had died. While this created some obvious limitations from my becoming a fan, it certainly didn’t stop me. This was 1973, and I was in process of discovering Country Rock, so Parsons’ musical pedigree had me intrigued. I already owned The Byrds Sweetheart of the Rodeo, but I had yet to discover Gram’s influence on that record. Likewise, his next band, The Flying Burrito Brothers was totally foreign to me.

At this time in my life, outside of FM radio, my music listening came in the form of 8-Track tapes. The worn-out family Hi-Fi station with a turntable went the way of the Salvation Army so vinyl records didn’t work for me. While 8-Tracks offered the convenience of play in both my cheap home system and my more-mighty sounding car set-up, they sucked in both their performance and availability. For those who have been there, I’m sure you remember how they had the nerve to introduce an unforgivable pause in a song they split between two of the four playing tracks. It also sometimes took inserting a matchbook to align a tape to the head in the deck to stop the sound of one track bleeding into another. And of course, not all titles made it to this inferior forgotten format.

What this all meant to me and my Gram Parsons discovery was that I was able to somehow find his debut solo record, GP on 8-Track, but not its posthumous follow-up, Grievous Angel . Hearing GP forever changed my music life. I was totally smitten with Parsons’ take on Country Rock. While respecting the tradition of Country, he added a musical spark to it that made it fresh and relevant. He also just looked so cool and as I discovered more photos of him, I even tried to dress like he did. And there was another secret ingredient to discover on that first record—the gorgeous backing vocals of the yet undiscovered Miss Emmylou Harris.

Until I used my first paycheck after graduating college in 1976 to buy a new stereo system with a turntable, I must have poured over the album cover of Grievous Angel in record stores a hundred times. But radio never played it and there was no Spotify back then. Looking back at it now, it seems so silly that I had to wait so long to finally hear this record that today I simply could not live without.

The LP kicks off with one of the coolest Country Rock songs ever, “The Return of the Grievous Angel.” Originally a poem sent to Gram by a fan named Tom Brown, this song sets a spirited tone for the rest of the record. It also serves to display the fact that Parsons is working with one of the best bands of all time. Led by the incredible James Burton, these were the same guys that backed up Elvis, the “King” referred to in the lead-off song. This record is worthwhile even if to just hear Burton’s guitar. You can hear the band rock their best on a blistering cover of the Louvin Brother’s “Cash on the Barrelhead” and on Gram’s “Ooh Las Vegas.”

Back then living in New Jersey, I would have never thought that one day I would encounter some of people involved with this record. But living in Nashville, things like stopping at a red light next to Emmylou Harris do sometimes happen. On Grievous Angel she’s again singing with Gram and this time even gets a prominent “with Emmylou Harris” on the top of the back cover. “Hearts on Fire,” written by another current Nashvillian, Walter Egan, is a duet made in heaven from Gram and Emmylou. Getting to hear Walter and Emmy sing this live together one day was a pinch-me moment that you can watch here. Miss Harris’ backing vocals shine throughout the record, but the real show-stopper with Gram is on the classic Boudleaux Bryant song, “Love Hurts.” The next time you hear that awful version by the band Nazareth, listen to Gram and Emmy’s version to clear your musical palate.

But the real beauty of this record is found in three heartfelt Parsons’ originals. While GP wasn’t the most prolific when it came to songwriting, his efforts rarely fell short of classic. My go-to song has always been the sadly beautiful “Brass Buttons.” For me, the song works on several different planes. Is it a lost love or one who has tragically passed on? Or here is one from left field, how about the loss of a mom? Any way you look at it, Gram’s frail and sincere County voice takes control of a song that should be enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame along with the Nudie suit he wore with the Burritos. (Yes, the suit is here in Nashville, and I pay homage to it whenever I get the chance.)

The other two GP classic ballads are “In My Hour of Darkness,” a co-write with his singing partner in which he lets his faith shine through. In fact, it’s one I’d love to hear my church choir sing. And then there is the mock-live version of “Hickory Wind.” While this may very well be Gram’s greatest song in the eyes of many, I’d choose the Sweetheart of the Rodeo version over the one on this record.

For me, putting Grievous Angel on my turntable has become a ritual of respect for the one artist I would choose my time machine to take me back to see live. It’s a record that’s complete with both great Country Rock songs and beautiful ballads to cover all the bases of my emotions. I just wonder what would have happened if I ever had found it on 8-Track a few years earlier.


  1. Love the write-up and great choice. $1000 Wedding and Return Of The Grievous Angel is where I go when I listen to this one… I would have loved to see where Gram would have gone after this.
    I need to go and see the suit!

  2. I’m not ashamed to say I bought GP & Grievous Angel 25 or so years ago because of all the times I’d read his name and that I was “supposed to” dig it if I thought I knew anything about music. There was a good reason I’d heard his name so often, and it wasn’t just due to the macabre details of his demise and the immediate aftermath. A shooting star for sure.

  3. This is a cool surprise this morning.Great choice Mike Love it. I came to Gram via a Rick Grech album. There was a song ‘Kiss The Children’ on it which I absolutely loved. It was written by Grech and a guy named Parsons. Went out and found the the album GP. The rest is music history in my travels. Your pick was my next stop. I never stopped digging the guy. Harris and him were made for each other.

  4. I have a friend whose favorite artists are Tom Waits- and Gram Parsons- a couple years ago on a vacation he stayed in the room where Gram died. It took a lot of talking to get his wife into staying there. A great influence on Americana and Country-rock. Great selection.

  5. I definitely enjoyed Gram’s two solo albums, but his best work, in my opinion, was the first FBB LP, “The Gilded Palace of Sin.” I’m looking forward to Chris Hillman’s autobiography coming out on Sept. 15. Hillman always felt a little slighted by Gram’s post-mortem notoriety.

  6. Hillman was consulted quite a bit in John Einerson’s Burrito Bros. bio a few years back. He’s was definitely part of the mortar that kept those bands in tact. That in itself sound like a slight. He’s a great musician first. I wish he’d do something with McGuinn, and lord knows Croz is desperate for redemption with his old mates.

    • Hillman and McGuinn did a short tour in 2018 with Marty Stuart and his band to mark the 50th anniversary of “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.” Crosby obviously wasn’t on that record, but he took great offense that McGuinn and Hillman had strategically reunited without him. McGuinn has stated in the past that he’ll never again tour with Crosby.

    • Yup, I saw the documentary at the theater and bought the DVD. Both David Geffen and producer Terry Melcher are on record saying Crosby was the most obnoxious and difficult person they ever had to deal with.

    • Yeah, Croz seemed sincerely contrite by admitting that he bullied and bulldozed A LOT of people.

      As you know, there’s a segment in the doc. describing Crosby’s firing from the Byrds featuring short interview clips with McGuinn and Hillman. Maybe 10 months ago, Crosby and McGuinn were exchanging a few thoughts about the firing and Crosby’s claim that none of his old bandmates speak to him. McGuinn was being very conciliatory and even apologetic and right out of the blue Crosby blocked him from his account. Crosby can’t stop being Crosby.

    • That’s exactly what McGuinn wrote after he discovered Crosby had blocked him. Croz complains that no one wants to talk to him and then disses the one ex-bandmate that reaches out to him.

  7. I think I heard of GP via FBB but can’t say I know much about his music. Looks like another one to add to the list. You did an excellent and heartfelt review of your choice Music Mike!

  8. Great album! In particular, I dig Parsons’ and Harris’ harmony singing. Their voices really blended so beautifully together.

    There’s a fantastic live version of “Ooh Las Vegas” Harris performed on the British TV music show Old Grey Whistle Test in 1977. Her backing band was quite appropriately called “The Hot Band”!

  9. I’m late to the discussion on this one, but I’m glad for the pick. He’s a name I heard mentioned back then, but never his music; similar to what you described. Since Youtube came to be, I’ve sampled his music, and it does take me back to those awkward folk/rock/country years. They were definitely creating a welcome partnership between the genres, and were brave and determined enough to do it through trial and error. The blend with Emmy Lou’s vocals on $1000 Wedding make it my favorite song on the album. As a sewing enthusiast, I’ve studied his famous rhinestone suit almost more than his music. *swoon* 🙂

  10. I read once that Brass Buttons is about the tragic demise of his mother from alcoholism. You are right that it could be read more than one way, but ultimately it is a relationship with the nurturing and protective feminine that has ended too soon or just too suddenly. That’s how it seems to me. Love Gram. Love this album, love to hear about other people loving his work! Thanks.

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