Originally released on vinyl by Sierra Records in 1982 and again in 1988 on CD, this third turn on reissue giant Rhino Records of a Gram Parsons radio show in Hempstead, Long Island, offers something special for both the hardcore Parsons fan and the newcomer. The songs are also presented in their original order, but extra dialogue is added, as well as a previously unreleased cut in the form of an encore medley. It’s pure, heartfelt country music.
Recorded at Ultrasonic Sound Studios on March 13, 1973, in front of a live studio audience, this show took place half a year before Parsons meet his untimely end. The Fallen Angels were his hand-picked band that included, most notably, “…from Birmingham, Alabama, Miss Emmylou Harris.” The rest of the band consisted of Neil Flanz on pedal steel, N.D. Smart II on drums, Kyle Tullis on bass and Jock Bartley on lead guitar.
The set begins with the DJ introducing the band as “We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes” comes slithering in. It seems the original tape didn’t actually capture the beginning of the song, a bit of history lost forever. The track features Gram and Emmylou trading refrains with a story of heated passion, while two lovers who know better seem to forget about tomorrow. “Country Baptism” is Emmylou blazing a path through a good old-fashioned public-domain gospel cooker. Parsons adds the backing vocal; Tullis is featured on a sweet bass solo.
The next selection is probably remembered mostly for being on the Woodstock soundtrack, done by Joan Baez (and miscredited to “Graham Parsons”). “This is an old song, I did with the Byrds when I was in fear ah mah life gettin’ taken away from me…sometimes all you can do is sing gospel music,” is Parsons’ intro to “Drugstore Truck Driving Man”. A twangy, loping, song, resplendent with Flanz sliding along, it’s a tongue-in-cheek look at the typical hippie-hating redneck done in a style befitting the subject.
“Big Mouth Blues” is a rockin’ train song delivered at a frenetic pace with the band flying down the tracks. At the end of the song, there is a little bonus banter with the audience, and some slight tension can be conjured. The Georgia boy shakes off the “Lawung Island” attitude and springs into the last song original on the album, “The New Soft Shoe”.
“Cry One More Time For You” is my favorite cut on this set and one of my all time favorites, period. The song was written by Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band (introduced by Bartley as being by “J. Geils”) and is a searing, plaintive cry from a scorned lover refusing to give up his misery. This is what made Parsons so special: He could take a sad song and make you feel happy to be sad.
The highlight of the extra dialogue is the “Rusty Bell/KOKE radio” yarn Parsons spins to the listener before the next song. A mischievous, warm-hearted, wannabe outlaw, Parsons tells of the hijinks during a live interview on an Austin radio station at the expense of the DJ, Rusty Bell. Emmylou corrects Parsons when he trails off, telling about his response to Rusty’s question about his thoughts on, “…progressive country. I told ‘em we played regressive country,” she chimes in almost defiantly.
Next up is Tompall Glaser’s classic “Streets of Baltimore”. A contemporary song at the time, it was arranged in a typical throwback country styling. The lyrics feature a man taking his woman to “where she wants to be,” and losing her to the big city lights.
One of the reoccurring themes of Parsons’ song selection is that of unrequited love. He was a master of making hearts break at the crack of a note. “That’s All it Took” is another example of this. Emmylou sings lead on the second verse with a harrowing cry more than worthy of even Parsons’ expectations. “Love Hurts”, the Boudleaux Bryant classic, is the most recognizable track on the set. The vocal pairing of Parsons and Harris heading in opposite directions on this cut is ultimate example of the significance of this timepiece.
Parsons always liked Merle Haggard, though the feeling was not necessarily mutual. The band whips into “California Cottonfields”, the Okie migration classic popularized in the late ’60s by the Hag. This version ebbs and flows, starts and stops, but remains connected throughout. The band shows its tightness with the breaks for a real foot-stompin’ good time.
The original recordings ended after the next song, the oft-covered “Six Days on the Road”. A song Parsons did with the Flying Burrito Brothers at Altamont, this one really smokes, the band playing it full-tilt like a trucker on bennies.
The bonus cut is a six-minute medley featuring a rockabilly treating of “Bony Maronie” and two Chuck Berry numbers, “Forty Days” and “Almost Grown”. It is a rock ‘n’ roll ruckus, as Parsons returns to what turned him to the whole damn thing in the first place. Bartley takes the lead on “40 Days”, sandwiched between Gram’s leads. It is a fitting ending to the eclectic set; they go out with a bang.