|Return to Sin City - A Tribute to Gram Parsons|
|Written by Jeff Fish|
|Friday, 11 March 2005|
If you’re into modern country music at all, then you owe it to yourself to watch this DVD. Gram Parsons was a renegade musician who embraced both country music and rock ‘n’ roll, as well as R&B, in a time when that wasn’t necessarily so cool. I mean, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones would throw you bone or two of country riffs on an album, but a whole album’s worth? The Grateful Dead certainly embraced it more than most rock bands of the time did, but even they were always first and foremost a rock band. But Parsons was melding all of those styles together and writing music that really didn’t belong on either country radio stations or most rock stations at the time. Parsons was influencing a lot of musicians along the way, though.
Previously a member of The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, Parsons was already well on his to forging a new style of rock ‘n’ roll. The style that Parsons helped create would eventually become country rock, now one of the mainstays on classic rock radio, as well as a huge influence on country music itself.
The band assembled for this show is an absolute kick in the pants: good old-fashioned shit-kicking music. All of the music in this release is songs that either Parsons either wrote or played on previously. All performances in this release are really topnotch, as well. The backing band, Sin City All Stars, is incredibly tight. They know this material inside and out. You can tell when you watch this that all of the musicians were really touched by Parsons, personally, professionally or stylistically. Some of the performances that really struck me are John Doe’s take on “Hot Burrito No. 2” (with some blistering slide work from Tony Furtado), Susan Marshall doing “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” and Steve Earle playing “Luxury Liner” and mixing politics with art on “My Uncle.” Norah Jones playing with Keith Richards isn’t something you’d normally expect, but with this release, you get them singing “Love Hurts.” Lucinda Williams provides really heart-wrenching versions of “Sleepless Night” and “A Song for You.” Every time I watch her, I think to myself that I need to listen to more of her music, but I digress. Dwight Yoakam’s version of “Sin City” is so full of life that you can just tell that everybody on stage is really getting into it.
Purely from a guitarist’s point of view, it was great to see James Burton playing guitar: he still has it. There’s a reason that Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Jimmy Page are all big fans. But as I wrote earlier, all of the backing musicians here really understand the music and play it exceptionally well. The mood they set and their sense of dynamics are really used well throughout this concert. When I first received the disc in the mail, I read the back of it. When I saw Norah Jones listed as one of the performers, I’ll admit I was a little bit skeptical. But those fears proved totally unfounded. She does a very nice rendition of “She” with the vocal harmonies being front and center. Again, no bad performances. Another one of the main reasons for this concert (besides the songs themselves) was an effort to help raise money for the Musicians Assistance Program (MAP), an organization that helps musicians to get off drugs or alcohol and straighten out their lives.
Generally speaking, the mix is pretty standard, with the stage through the two front speakers, vocals through the center channel and an ambient wash through the surround speakers. Visually, I really like the backdrop they project through out the concert, mixed with the lights it really made for an appropriate setting. I totally recommend this release for a couple of reasons. All of the performances are really good, the songwriting is excellent and you can tell that all the musicians up on the stage are really having a good time. Fans of country music will dig this release for its unabashed love of the art form and fans of excellent musicianship will enjoy this for the playing throughout. Or if you just want to see a really good concert, then you’ll like this disc, too. Think I need to go to Joshua Tree …