CD reviews for July 22


The Gram Parsons Anthology

"Sacred Hearts & Fallen Angels"

Available at All That Jazz for $31.98

I am not worthy to review the music of Gram Parsons. I can write only a few words in this newspaper to remind those who may have forgotten his music or to point the uninitiated in the right direction.

He lived such a short life but changed music forever during the few years he performed.

In 2003, when Rolling Stone magazine published its "500 Greatest Albums of All Time," it became clear that Parson's love of country music heavily influenced the rock 'n' roll albums of the next generation. (Read: Elvis Costello, Uncle Tupelo, Cracker)

Of his band the Flying Burrito Bros., Parsons said, "We're a rock band that sounds like a country band."

The Gram Parsons Anthology follows his music on two discs from his time with The International Submarine Band to The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Bros., his solo work and three songs from Gram Parsons & The Fallen Angels (his short-lived last project, which features Emmy Lou Harris). Paired with a 50-page booklet/biography, this anthology is a reminder of just how much music Parsons made in his short career.

Like other fiery spirits and great musicians of his time -- Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix -- Parsons lived hard and died in his 20s. He died in 1973 of a drug overdose. Per a pact he had made with friends, his body was stolen from the funeral home and burned in the desert of Joshua Tree National Forest near Cap Rock.

Rated: This two-disc set will require many long weekends of listening, but you have to promise not to cry.

Son Volt

"Okemah and the Melody of Riot"

On sale at All That Jazz for $16.98

"The words of Woody Guthrie ringing in my head." Those lyrics open up the latest album by Son Volt. The song has the sound of a man walking alone early in the morning, hands in pockets and deep in thought. It sounds like the song of a man, lost.

Woody Guthrie's name has come up a lot lately. In this confusing political climate where the main message from the top is "sit down and shut up," music listeners long for another Guthrie to come along and explain us to ourselves the way he did during the Depression. In this album, it seems lead singer Jay Farrar wants to be that man for us.

After laying out his motivation in the first track, the rest of the album unfolds into song after song of storytelling. He paints portraits that have the stark, "in the world but not of it" confusion of Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate.

From behind his guitar, Farrar watches soldiers go off to war, and he doesn't seem to know what to do next. This is a political album, but its political message feels passive and numb. They are protest songs played like lullabies.

Rated: The revolution will be televised, and here's your script.

Saint Etienne

"Travel Editions 1990 -- 2005"

Available at All That Jazz for $14.98

There's a small town in the France called Saint Etienne. It's a fly fisherman's paradise with an old apple orchard on the outskirts of town with an old abandoned barn and a sign that reads, in English, "Stay Out."

We stayed there for days, living by candlelight and enjoying a turn we took in a country we didn't know all because of a band.

I'd never heard of them. It was the mid-1990s, and I was preoccupied with the odd sounds coming out of places such as Finland. My friend, on the other hand, was a veteran clubber from London.

As we hitchhiked our way across the country without a map, he saw the sign for Saint Etienne with an arrow.

"I like that band," he said. And we stuck out our thumbs.

And so it is, that even if the keyboards and echoing dance tunes seem a little dated to me now as I listen to "Travel Edition 1990-2005," I'm forced to like it.

It makes me want to be in a windowless room early in the morning, dancing with strangers, or in a barn watching my friend chain smoke, lighting one dying cigarette with another, because we are out of matches.

Rated: There's something very European Mary Tyler Moore about this album.

-- Autumn Phillips


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