Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons [Almo, 1999]
First cut's the worst, which I blame not on Chrissie Hynde but on "She," the softest song Parsons ever wrote (and probably the only one about black people). Last cut's the best, and though "In My Hour of Darkness" is anything but soft, I credit it primarily to Victoria Williams and a gang that owes Parsons everything, from alt-country lifer Mark Olson to Nashville darling Jim Lauderdale to in-betweeners Buddy and Julie Miller. There are plenty of great songbooks with plenty of great admirers, but damn few that define a sensibility, and even Elvis Costello and Evan Dando seem to have pondered Parsons all their musical lives--though not as much as Aunt Emmylou, who shares recipes with Beck H. and Sheryl C. As for Gram's own kids, even the slow ones--parched Gillian Welch, sodden Whiskeytown, spaced Cowboy Junkies--designed their sounds for this material, which nails their identification-alienation harder than their own ever will. A-