Return to Sin City: A Tribute to Gram Parsons celebrates an artist who made his greater mark in the years following his death and has become a contemporary music icon. The late, great Gram Parsons refused to let anyone call his music "country rock." With the soul of a true cowboy, he just couldn't be fenced in. His vision was much more grandiose than the words "country rock" would allow. The cosmic American music of Gram Parsons celebrated diversity. Sure, the broken hearted sentiment of country music was firmly rooted in his musical upbringing. But so was the burning urgency of soul music's dramatic melodies as well as the sweet, uplifting, revelatory harmonies of gospel choirs and of course the hip shaking, hand clapping strut and boogie of rock and roll music. Thirty years after his untimely death in Joshua Tree, CA., musicians and music lovers still name check Gram Parsons with the utmost awe and respect. He saw beyond labels and boundaries in music and in life. In his time he influenced the music of his prot#g# Emmylou Harris, as well as his friends the Rolling Stones and the Byrds. He was the first longhair country boy-just ask any of the outlaws from Willie Nelson to Kris Kristofferson-someone who could bring country music to the closed minds of those who previously dismissed it as "hillbilly" or "hick" while turning on many a good ol' boy to the sounds of sweet soul music. Staying true to her father's vision of diversity in music, his daughter Polly organized Return to Sin City: A Tribute to Gram Parsons. She recruited both close friends and ardent fans of her father and his music as well as contemporary artists inspired by his work and vision. "He changed the face of country music without anybody ever knowing it. After he died, there was this whole different aspect of country music which pervades to this day." -Keith Richards, According to the Rolling Stones.
Return to Sin City - A Tribute to Gram Parsons offers clear evidence that Parsons, who died at age 26 and whose output consisted primarily of just five recordings (one with the Byrds, two with the Flying Burrito Brothers, and two solo albums), commands a degree of respect and influence these days thats far greater than the modest success he enjoyed before his death in 1973. Recorded in Los Angeles, this 106-minute, 21-song concert features some big names (Keith Richards, Norah Jones) and slightly lesser lights (Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, John Doe) performing tunes Parsons wrote and/or recorded before his career was cut short by drug and alcohol problems (executive produced by Parsons daughter, Polly, the concert and DVD will help raise funds to battle substance abuse). And if the materials country-rock flavor (Parsons disdained that label, preferring to call it "cosmic American music") sounds a bit hackneyed nowadays, well, its not his fault; after all, Parsons was only around to help invent the genre, not run it into the ground. On this night, its left to the artists with unique voices and personae to lift the flavor of the proceedings from the merely pleasant to the truly inspiring, and thats precisely what Doe ("Hot Burrito No. 2"), Earle ("Luxury Liner"), Williams (a raw, somewhat ragged, and unabashedly vulnerable "Sleepless Nights"), Yoakam ("Sin City"), and Richards (who croaks his way through "Love Hurts," a duet with Jones, and "Hickory Wind") do. After that string of remarkable performances, closing the show by bringing everyone (including the great guitarist James Burton) onstage for "Wild Horses" and "Ooh Las Vegas" may be a tad anti-climactic, but Return to Sin City is still a fine way to remember a music legend. --Sam Graham