Wednesday, 2 January 2013
Top 102 Albums. No 73. Sweetheart of the Rodeo
Top 102 Albums. No 73.
Sweetheart of the Rodeo - The Byrds
Here we have the first but certainly not the last appearance of Mr Gram Parsons, who, in his brief life, was responsible for an inordinate amount of the music that soundtracks my life.
Many years ago I used to go to The Johnny Cash Appreciation Society, a monthly open mike session where members of various alternative bands in Dublin played hommage to country music. I learnt The Christian Life off this record with a view to singing it but it was already taken. I always thought it was dripping with irony. Such an event, the hipsters acknowledging the rooted vitality of country music owes a debt to this album, where Gram Parsons' brief membership of The Byrds pulled the psychedelic torchbearers down a country road.
Country and folk seem to hearken back to simpler, more innocent times and this yearning is probably best encapsulated in Hickory Wind a song co-credited to Parsons although it has been claimed that the song was stolen. Parsons would include the song on his later solo album Grievous Angel. He does nostalgic yearning better than anyone, I think, and this is the motherlode.
"But it makes me feel better each time it begins
Callin' me home, hickory wind"
The version of the traditional spiritual I am a Pilgrim is another of my favourites on this album. But what isn't. It opens and closes with Bob Dylan songs that would show up on The Basement Tapes but were unreleased by Dylan at the time. Gram Parsons sings Merle Haggard's murder ballad Life in Prison where his yearning for death seems eerily foreboding.
There is also a fine version of Woody Guthrie's Pretty Boy Floyd, more folk than country perhaps but with some great country picking. And it don't get more county than the refrain of You're Still on my Mind - "an empty bottle, a broken heart and you're still on my mind"
God, death and broken hearts. What more could you want?