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RECORD RACK

September 05, 1993|RICHARD CROMELIN

VARIOUS ARTISTS

"Conmemrativo: A Tribute to Gram Parsons"

Rhino

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Unlike such departed icons as Jimi Hendrix, Gram Parsons suffuses contemporary pop and rock in a subtle, indirect way. His own recordings never got much circulation, and none of his songs has assumed rock-anthem familiarity, so his legacy has been transmitted by disciples more than by the originator.

But his influence is undeniably vast--consider it a climate rather than a storm. Before the haunted, charismatic artist died of a drug overdose in 1973 at age 26, he had fused country emotion and rock attitude in a dynamic formula that would help shape everyone from the Eagles and the Stones to R.E.M. and Elvis Costello.

"Conmemrativo" comprises interpretations of 17 Parsons songs by contemporary artists, and it lacks the revelatory punch that you might expect. The album presents much of the Parsons songbook in straightforward, predictable terms, and admits performances that range from uninspired to inappropriate: Clive Gregson & Boo Hewerdine's mannered treatment of "Sin City," at one low point, all but denies the lyric's urgency.

Mainly, the album is short of voices , voices that can capture the songs' delicate undercurrents of longing, hope, despair and dread. Not until the 10th track, Carla Olson's "Do You Know How It Feels to Be Lonesome?," does the singing really hit home. That song opens the collection's strongest stretch: Peter Holsapple & Susan Cowsill's rocking "A Song for You," Finger's Stones-y "Still Feeling Blue," Bob Mould & Vic Chesnutt's howling "Hickory Wind" and Joey Burns & Victoria Williams' elegant "Return of the Grievous Angel."

This is a nice addition to the canon, but the 1990 CD reissue of his two solo albums, "GP" and "Grievous Angel," remains the essential Parsons purchase.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent). A rating of five stars (a classic) is reserved for retrospective albums.

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