Gram Parsons & Various Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons

There are very few casual fans of Gram Parsons, the critically acclaimed but publicly ignored singer-songwriter who, from 1966 to his death in 1973, set out to re-introduce the prodigal child, rock ’n’ roll, to its estranged and somewhat bewildered parent, country music. The ardour that Parsons inspires in his followers is unmistakably audible on Return of the Grievous Angel, a solid collection of covers (co-produced by Emmylou Harris) that never loses sight of its purpose, to pay tribute to his work. This focus is reinforced by the inclusion of a second identically-sequenced disc of Parsons’ originals, culled from his two solo albums and from his work with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. The tribute disc is mostly comprised of artists whose careers would be unthinkable without Parsons, such as Wilco and the Cowboy Junkies, both of whom turn in respectable but ultimately unrevealing efforts. Bigger surprises are to be found in Beck’s duet with Emmylou Harris, a nuanced and sensitive rendition of “Sin City,” and in Sheryl Crow’s duet with Emmylou Harris, a graceful reading of the Burritos’ “Juanita.” The album highlight, however — and I’m not making this up — comes from Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield, who cover what is arguably Parsons’ greatest song, “$1000 Wedding,” with a passion and sincerity wholly worthy of the original. (Almo)