Grievous Angel has been called one of the best harmony records of its era. Actually, it’s one of the best of all-time. Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris’ voices seamlessly match in a wedding of deep emotion, graceful beauty, and soulful communion. Behind it all, Parsons and an all-star band achieve their collective desire to unite roots country with the rejuvenated social consciousness present in late 60s rock. That it constitutes Parsons’ swan song adds another layer of depth to its tremendous importance.
Mastered from the original master tapes, and going far beyond the multiple digital reissues etched with flaws, Mobile Fidelity’s numbered edition hybrid SACD brings to the surface unprecedented degrees of fireplace-hearth warmth, airy instrumental accents, and distinctive vocal timbres of Parsons and Harris.
Audiophiles will revel in the distinctive channel separation and extra-wide soundstage in which Parsons’ voice is on the left and Harris ‘on the right. Despite having used different microphones, the pair recorded close enough together that they stared into one another’s eyes while singing, lending to the beauty contained within. In addition, a majority of the sessions were captured live in the studio, with scant overdubs smoothing out a ragged edges. Mobile Fidelity’s reissue preserves the album’s prized combination of intimacy, warmth, and rawness. The performance and sound are heaven-sent.
Most famously known for the inclusion of the definitive version of “Love Hurts,” Grievous Angel is widely considered Parsons’ most cohesive and consistent work. While it only features two new Parsons compositions, the record works as a synthesis of time, place, spirit, and kindred togetherness. Akin to the musician’s famous Nudie suit, which featured a Christian cross on one side and cannabis leaves on the other, the album bridges seemingly opposed styles and concepts, channeling a laidback spirituality that owes to songs gleaned from the past and present, memories lamented and cherished.
Whether expressing tenderness (“Brass Buttons,” an homage to Parsons’ mother that died from alcoholism when he was 18), making confessions (“Return of the Grievous Angel,” steeped in unrequited love), reliving failed romances (“$1000 Wedding”), or remembering cherished deceased friends (the hymnal “In My Hour of Darkness”), Parsons and Co. don’t strike a false note. In pianist Glen Hardin, guitarist James Burton, drummer Ronnie Tutt, and bassist Emory Gordy, Parsons couldn’t have assembled a more sympathetic band. Add Bernie Leadon on Dobro and Al Perkins on pedal steel guitar, and you have one of the best country ensembles ever assembled.
Achingly gorgeous, sincerely heartfelt, and extraordinarily melodic, this harmony-rich classic is a landmark of what’s now recognized as Americana. You could say that, along with GP, it birthed the genre.
Gram Parsons Grievous Angel Track Listing:
1. "Return of the Grievous Angel" (Gram Parsons, Thomas Brown) – 4:19
2. "Hearts on Fire" (Walter Egan, Tom Guidera) – 3:50
3. "I Can't Dance" (Tom T. Hall) – 2:20
4. "Brass Buttons" (Parsons) – 3:27
5. "$1000 Wedding" (Parsons) – 5:00
6. "Medley Live from Northern Quebec:"
(a) "Cash on the Barrelhead" (Charlie Louvin, Ira Louvin) – 2:12
(b) "Hickory Wind" (Parsons, Bob Buchanan) – 4:15
7. "Love Hurts" (Boudleaux Bryant) – 3:40
8. "Ooh Las Vegas" (Parsons, Ric Grech) – 3:29
9. "In My Hour of Darkness" (Parsons, Emmylou Harris) – 3:42