It's hard to imagine the Americana sound -- from the Eagles and America to Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams, not to mention the iconic Emmylou Harris
-- without the musical bedrock laid down by Gram Parsons in his brief 26 years. Parsons' musical output is painfully short on quantity but lusciously deep, drawing together strains of country, rock, and soul in an irresistible package that he preferred to call "cosmic American music." Whereas the 2001 collection Sacred Hearts and Fallen Angels: The Gram Parsons Anthology
traces the full spectrum of his career, this three-CD collector's box, co-produced by his frequent duet partner Harris, zones in on Parsons' post-Byrds
/Burritos solo work, representing some of his most heartfelt material and hinting at the unfulfilled promise of his tragically short career. The first two discs offer gorgeously remastered versions of Parsons' two solo albums, 1973's GP
and 1974's Grievous Angel,
fleshed out by rare interviews and bonus cuts, including stripped-down on-air duets with Harris on "Love Hurts" and the Flying Burrito Brothers
' "Sin City." The discs are housed in scaled-down replicas of the original album covers (with stiff cardboard sleeves, no less), but the real draw for Parsonologists here is the third disc, which contains 15 semi-acoustic alternate versions recently discovered on the original session tapes, most previously unissued. Highlights include a solo take on the original weeper "She"; the classic, '50s-style "Kiss the Children," written and performed with producer Rik Grech; a spare version of "The New Soft Shoe" that plays like an intimate demo; a rousing yet cozy "Ooh Las Vegas"; a warm take on "Hickory Wind," free of the overdubbed crowd sounds on the album version; a subtly haunting rendition of the Parsons-Harris hymn "In My Hour of Darkness"; and a slow-burning "Love Hurts." The disc ends with yet another stunning duet, on the Louvin Brothers' "The Angels Rejoiced Last Night" -- one of many tunes that finds Parsons battling between the dark and light forces in his life -- which didn't make the cut for Grievous Angel.
In the liner notes, Harris recalls, "Gram's writing brought his own personal generation's poetry and vision into the very traditional format of country music, and he came up with something completely different." Original, yes, and enduring.