RECORDS / New Releases

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The Independent Culture
Gram Parsons: GP b/w Grievous Angel (Reprise, CD only). A two-for-the-price- of-one package which is a value-for-money CD if ever there was one. Parsons' is one of those names musicians are always dropping - from Emmylou Harris (who got her first break from him) to Elvis Costello (who didn't); from Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie to the Lemonheads' Evan Dando. But in the two decades since his tragic demise in the Joshua Tree Motel, the legend of Gram's grisly death and unorthodox funeral arrangements (friends stole his body to cremate him near his favourite rock in the Mojave Desert) has been more widely heard than his music. These two albums - originally released within a year of each other, the second posthumously - are the cornerstone of his reputation, and will be a revelation to those who haven't heard them before. Parsons married country's all-pervasive melancholy to rock and roll's insouciance, creating what he immodestly but fairly termed 'Cosmic American Music'. He mixed heartfelt covers of traditional country artists like the Louvin Brothers and the great Joyce Allsup with his own remarkable original songs, full of melodious self- doubt and imposing religious imagery. It is the elegance of Parsons' rhyme schemes and guitar playing that still startles, as much as the cracked intensity of his voice. Anyone who is not moved by 'dollars 1000 Wedding' has a stone for a soul. Ben Thompson

Morphine: Cure for Pain (Rykodisc, CD/tape). It can't compare with a Stratocaster or a Les Paul in terms of sex appeal, but the baritone saxophone usually makes things feel better; just think of Holland- Dozier-Holland's early-Sixties Motown records, or James Brown's output circa 'I Got You', anchored by the cumbersome horn with the loop in its neck. Even for the artiest of art-rock trios, a line-up of baritone, drums and two-string fretless bass guitar and drums might seem risky, but this US band's second album makes it sound quite logical. Dana Colley's barking baritone provides the thrust and texture behind the singing of bassist Mark Sandman, achieving a coolly neurotic funk oddly reminiscent of the original Talking Heads. All that, and a brilliant Leonard Cohen pastiche too. Richard Williams