Rolling Stone - July 8, 1999

SPACE COWBOY

All country-rock roads lead back to Gram Parsons

**** (4 stars) Return of the Grievous Angel:
A Tribute to Gram Parsons
Almo Sounds

In the seven years before his death from a drug overdose in 1973 at age twenty-six, singer-songwriter Gram Parsons seemed hellbent on destruction - he meant to kick down the walls between country & western, R&B and rock & roll. In the course of six albums - recorded with the International Submarine Band, the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, and as a solo artist - Parsons delivered more Dixie-fried soul and twangy heartache than can be found in the combined catalogs of his country-rock contemporaries the Eagles and today's Nashville hitmakers. Emmylou Harris, Parsons' protege and duet partner on GP (1973) and Grievous Angel (1974), has carried his musical torch ever since. As co-executive producer of Return of the Grievous Angel, she enlisted some musical renegades to pay homage to the man's legacy. Perhaps the real tribute to Parsons is that most of the artists featured on this collection - Lucinda Williams to Beck to Elvis Costello to Steve Earle - have themselves refused to be pigeonholed musically; instead, they all concoct the sonic stew that Parsons called "cosmic American music." There's not a bad track among the thirteen here, though some come closer than others to hitting the raw emotional mark that characterized Parsons' work. Harris reprises "She," her 1973 duet with Parsons, to transcendent, glowing effect with Chrissie Hynde, and adds an otherwordly quality to the 1969 Burrito Brothers weeper "Juanita" by harmonizing exquisitely with Sheryl Crow. Costello, a longtime aficionado who covered two Parsons songs on 1981's Almost Blue, gives a piano-driven, gut-wrenching reading of the Parsons-Harris version of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant's "Sleepless Nights." A raucuos Wilco crank up the previously midtempo "One Hundred Years From Now" (from the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo), while Chris Hillman, Parsons' collaborator in the Byrds and Burritos, tangles with Earle to restyle 1970's "High Fashion Queen" into a rollicking honky-tonk shuffle. Parsons fans won't be disappointed with Lucinda Williams' lived-in reading of the album's title track. Her evocative vibrato (backed by former Byrd David Crosby) conveys the bittersweet conflict between wanderlust and the lure of home fires that fueled the chorus of Parsons' posthumous signature song: "Twenty thousand roads I went down down down/But they all led me straight back home to you." For the uninitiated, Return of the Grievous Angel is sure to point homeward as well, to the original Gram Parsons recordings - an American-music journey well worth taking. - Holly George-Warren

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