Gram Parsons And The Fallen Angels "The Last Roundup: Live from the Bijou Café in Philadelphia, 3/16/73" (2023 Record Store Day Black Friday LP)

For Record Store Day Black Friday in 2023, Amoeba Records issued a previously unreleased live album by the late country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons, recorded in Philadelphia in 1973. The double-LP titled The Last Roundup: Live from the Bijou Café in Philadelphia, 3/16/73 was limited to 7,500 vinyl copies.

The concert documented on this album took place on March 16, 1973, six months before Parsons died at the age of 26. Gram's singing partner was the then-unknown Emmylou Harris. The Fallen Angels also consisted of Neil Flanz (pedal steel guitar), Kyle Tullis (bass), Jock Bartley (lead guitar), and N.D. Smart II (drums). The double-LP was sourced from the soundboard recording made at the intimate Bijou Café venue in Philly, and the sound quality -- though not 100% squeaky clean -- is closer to that of a commercial release than of an unofficial recording. The set list was drawn from Gram's first solo album GP and from his work with the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Byrds, and also included a few additional covers of songs from Merle Haggard ("California Cotton Fields"), and Hank Williams ("Jambalaya").

It's great to hear this unearthed recording, which is a good showcase for the late, legendary Parsons as well as for future country star Harris. Although Parsons is often regarded as the father of country-rock, most of his recordings sit firmly on the country side of that equation. While country is certainly the dominant genre heard in this set, a certain rock and roll element is allowed to find its way in. The opening instrumental "Flint Hill Special" might be described as "bluegrass rock", and the set ends with a medley of early rock and roll songs from the likes of Chuck Berry, Larry Williams, and Ronnie Hawkins. A cover of the J. Geils Band's "Cry One More Time" mixes a healthy dose of blues-rock with the country leanings, and the jaunty "Big Mouth Blues" has a noticeable urban edge that carries over into the remainder of the set, where the songs tend to be less somber. But, make no mistake: old-fashioned country music is the main influence here. Parsons' melancholy tenor brings the heartache to songs such as the Burrito Brothers' "Sin City" and Bobby Bare's "Streets of Baltimore". The pre-fame Harris adds much to these renditions of the songs with her vocal contributions, sometimes coming across like her sometime future collaborator Dolly Parton, and occasionally stealing the show with her confident delivery on "Country Baptizing" and Hank Williams' "Jambalaya (On The Bayou)". The chemistry between the two singers was remarkable, particularly during their gentle duet performances of Carl Butler And Pearl's "We'll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning" and the Everly Brothers' "Love Hurts" -- the latter performed here before the song became an international Top 10 hit for the Scottish hard rock band Nazareth. This record is a find.

So, how does The Last Roundup compare to the 1982 release Live 1973, the commercially available Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels live album that was recorded three days before this one for a New York radio broadcast? (At one point during the broadcast, they mentioned the fact that they were on their way to Philadelphia). Live 1973, performed by the same lineup and having a similar set list, has more of a live-in-the-studio sound and vibe. It has a cleaner and smoother presentation that is beneficial to everyone involved. However, I think it is great that The Last Roundup has been issued, giving us the opportunity to hear Parsons, Harris, and the Fallen Angels performing in a more authentic live setting. In my opinion, that authenticity makes The Last Roundup the slightly better and more vital album of the two.

Note: There was one CD pressing of The Last Roundup (Amoeba AM006) which was not released commercially, but was distributed to supporters of the Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the development and production of the vinyl Record Store Day release.

Gram Parsons And The Fallen Angels "The Last Roundup: Live from the Bijou Café in Philadelphia, 3/16/73" (Amoeba AM005) 2023

Track Listing:

1. Introduction / Flint Hill Special
2. We'll Sweep Out The Ashes
3. My Uncle
4. Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man
5. Streets of Baltimore
6. Country Baptizing
7. California Cotton Fields
8. Love Hurts
9. Cry One More Time
10. Sin City
11. Big Mouth Blues
12. Jambalaya
13. Six Days On The Road
14. Introductions
15. The New Soft Shoe
16. Rock & Roll Medley
      - Hang On Sloopy
      - Baby What You Want Me To Do
      - Boney Moroney
      - Forty Days
      - Almost Grown