Comprised of approximately ninety minutes of rare concert recordings on two CDs, Live at The Avalon Ballroom 1969 is a formidable set of recordings documenting an ever so fleeting phase of Gram Parsons’ career.
That’s because this lineup of Burritos not only didn’t last that long, nor did they crackle with the same energy here for that long either. Drummer Michael Clarke, once in The Byrds with vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Chris Hillman, had not appeared on the band’s debut studio album, while bassist Chris Ethridge would depart before the second was recorded. This quintet cooks here, whether on the upbeat likes of “Mental Revenge” or the doleful mood of “Sin City.” And it’s worth paying special attention to the alternately traditional and visionary pedal steel of “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow.
Captured on tape and preserved by The Grateful Dead’s soundman Owsley Stanley (as The Burritos were opening for the Frisco icons on this run), it’s no surprise the sound quality is so high. Bass and drums are fully present and by the appearance of Little Richard’s “Lucille,” from the 4/4/69 set, Hillman’s harmony voice is appropriately prominent. The song selection from two nights later is so similar to its counterpart, dilettantes of Gram Parson’s may be put off, but between the two discs there are ten previously unreleased tunes.
Those nuggets include an informal recording of Gram and Friends (sic) by his assistant Jim Seiter rendering a harmony laden version of The Everly Brothers “When Will I Be Loved.” This version displays the tenuous and ultimately terminal vulnerability at the heart of Parson’s best original songs in an altogether different way than the solo piano ballad demo of “Thousand Dollar Wedding” that would eventually appear on Gram’s final official studio recording Grievous Angel.
Distinctly a labor of love right down to the fancy packaging, Gram Parsons Archives Volume One has been culled from some five hours of recordings yet to see the light of day, according to David Prinz, Amoeba label founder and producer. Volume One sets a high standard for future releases in this projected series.