Now Spinning: Gram Parsons – The Early Years Vol. 1

This is a bit of an overlooked oddity in the catalog of Gram Parsons. Considering the near-mythic status Parsons’ career soared to in the years following his death, with everything from Byrds outtakes to the International Submarine Band’s earliest singles reverently sought out, it’s a bit surprising at the lack of popular or critical attention these recordings generated when first released in 1979 or rereleased as a CD box set in 2011. 

And while the music is hardly revolutionary – there’s only the slightest trace of the sounds that would later have Parsons heralded as the father of cosmic country rock – it is uniformly strong and interesting look into Parsons’ teenage influences and earliest songwriting efforts. Recorded between 1963 and 1965 at the height of the folk revival, the album is very much a reflection of the times in both performances and material, with Pete Seeger-inspired traditional selections, ‘Mary Don’t You Weep’ and ‘Bells of Rhymney’. The album essentially serves as Parsons’ lone foray into the day’s popular folk music, and simultaneously pales in comparison to what he later released and stands up well against similar albums of the time period. 

Gram was just 17 when these recording started, backed by his suddenly popular high school band, The Shilos. While the covers are impressively performed, especially considering Gram’s age, what really stands out is one of his two originals included, ‘Zah’s Blues’. With his voice taking on a soon to become familiar lonesome tone delivering mystical, romantic lyrics over unexpectedly jazzy guitar chords, it’s more Tim Buckley than Flying Burrito Brothers and hints at the creativity to come.

While not mandatory listening, the collection will be appreciated by any Gram Parsons fan – especially on vinyl where a lengthy booklet features recollections from his old bandmates along with reviews and photos of The Shilos live performances. Though it can be a rare find in record stores, there seem to be plenty available on DISCOGS.

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