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Buy from Amazon

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Image Entertainment presents
Return to Sin City: A Tribute to Gram Parsons (2004)

"This tribute tonight is for my father, Gram Parsons, a man who loved music, a man who loved song. And while he was walking on this earth, he was on a mission, blending the extremes of country, rhythm 'n blues and rock 'n roll. If he did nothing else but introduce Keith Richards to the soul of country music by exposing him to George Jones and Merle Haggard, that would have been enough."
- Polly Parsons

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: March 23, 2005

Stars: Keith Richards, Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle
Other Stars: Kathleen Edwards, John Doe, Jim James, Jay Farrar, Kathleen Edwards, Raul Malo, James Burton, Al Perkins, Kristin Mooney, Bryson Jones, Jonny Kaplan, Kat Maslich Bode, Skip Edwards, Marvin Etzoni, Tony Furtado, Doug Petibone, Easy Pickens, Dave Raven, Dusty Wakeman, Colin Chipps, Jedd Hughes, Eddie Perez, House of Blues Gospel Choir
Director: Mark Lucas

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:46m:00s
Release Date: March 22, 2005
UPC: 012569591325
Genre: rock


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A+A+A+ A

DVD Review

As a budding musicologist during the age of vinyl (or as I heard it humorously dubbed in a movie once, "old CDs"), one album I kept hearing raved about time and time again was Sweetheart of the Rodeo by the legendary California rock band, The Byrds. What made it such an anomaly in their career was that it marked a screeching 180-degree turn, going headlong into mostly uncharted, untested waters of country rock.

Now, think about it: a well established, beloved, mostly radio-friendly quartet in an age when AM was king and psychedelia was the flavor of choice. Suddenly, the three part harmony of Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn, Turn, Turn was replaced by twangy, rural good ol' boy singin' and pickin'.Charter members David Crosby and Gene Clark were no longer in flight with head wingman Roger "Jim" McGuinn. The thinking man's rocker and the band's sole romantic both had flown the nest, and one unknown kid named Cecil Ingram Connor was recruited to fill the void. But as one era of the band had closed, another began, and so did the legend of the replacement, better known from that point as one Gram Parsons.

Although his tenure as a Byrd was brief, its after effects still resonate to these days and times. Prior to the release of Sweetheart, Columbia Records learned that Parsons was still technically under contract to a competing label, thanks to the singer-guitarist's short-lived tenure in The International Submarine Band, whose Safe at Home is arguably the first country-rock album with its mixture of rootsy originals and cool covers from the likes of Elvis, Merle Haggard, and Johnny Cash. Sadly, this forced most of his phenomenal vocal work to be stripped from about half of the completed album, with McGuinn having to make an 11th hour return to the studio to replicate what had been undone. But the spirit and passion that Gram instilled in his fellow band members would not be denied, and though it struck out commercially (only barely managing crack the lower rungs of Billboard's Top 100 album chart), those that took a chance preached its virtues like town criers, particularly singling out phenomenal Parson originals Hickory Wind and One Hundred Years from Now (my personal favorite) as the high points of a flawless album, which has gone on to become a certified musical classic.

Still, the low chart placing combined with his refusal to participate in a South African tour due to that country's shameful apartheid practices sent Gram packing with fellow band member Chris Hillman to form The Flying Burrito Brothers. Greater artistic triumphs loomed both with that groundbreaking quartet's amazing debut (which found Parsons meshing his beloved country with equally spirited soul in great remakes of Do Right Woman, Do Right Man and The Dark End of the Street) and on his own via a pair of luminous solo efforts (G.P., Grievous Angel) that hinted at a strong foundation for public as well as critical acclaim. But the restlessness that caused him to vacate all of his previous bands reappeared during his down times away from stage and studio in the form of drink and drugs. And on the night of September 19, 1973 one of the saddest losses in music transpired when Gram passed away due to a lethal mixture of tequila and morphine. But only in body, for in the three decades since, his lingering creative shadow has continued to influence countless artists from The Eagles to protégé Emmylou Harris to many of today's most promising acts that make up the "alt. country" movement.

In the summer of 2004, an incredibly diverse, gifted roster of musicians and vocalists congregated at Los Angeles' Universal Amphitheater for what turned out to be a rousing, emotional, and long overdue celebration of his work. Return to Sin City: A Tribute To Gram Parsons is a 21-song salute that blazes from its rocking take of Dave Dudley's 1960s favorite, Six Days on the Road (courtesy of the Sin City All Stars, the gig's wonderful core house band) onward and never becomes guilty of filler or tedium; only the recently similar Concert for George can compare in quality and emotional intensity. Like that show, everyone involved plays and sings their hearts out with only the most sincere intentions and complete lack of ego.

It's hard to pick favorite moments from among this stellar lot: Jay Farrar's searing take on Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man, a memorable kiss-off to the cold reception Parsons and Roger McGuinn received from famed Nashville disc jockey Ralph Emery in the wake of an ill-fated Byrds appearance at the Grand Ole Opry (but hey, the latter happened to a skinny side-burned kid from Memphis; look what happened when he shrugged it off and moved on); a pair of kick-ass performances from former X leader John Doe, beaming with unbridled enthusiasm on Hot Burrito No. 2 and a positively gorgeous We'll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning (the latter featuring a wonderful backing vocal from the rapidly rising Kathleen Edwards, who's literally a star waiting to happen); an aching Sleepless Nights, an underground Everly Brothers classic Gram resurrected, here courtesy of a rarely better Lucinda Williams; the legendary Keith Richards reaching the vocal peak of his career (in his sixties, for crying out loud) on both Love Hurts (another Everly classic, teaming him with Norah Jones for some killer harmony and stellar instrumental support from steel guitar wonder Al Perkins and former Parsons/Elvis sideman, James Burton), and an absolutely heartfelt Hickory Wind, which I guarantee will move you to tears, just like it nearly does the so-called rock and roll bad boy, who was kind enough to let his old friend Gram record Wild Horses nearly two years before the Stones issued it on Sticky Fingers. Trumping them all are two "say hallelujah" performances from Memphis-based vocalist Susan Marshall, who in addition to providing smooth backing vocals with fellow "soul sister" Kristin Mooney, brings down the house with a letter perfect Do Right Woman, Do Right Man (which does for her what original artist Aretha Franklin did in her cover version Otis Redding's Respect: becomes her song) and an eye-widening rendition of the final track from what turned out to be Parson's unintentional farewell album (Grievous Angel), In My Hour of Darkness, which climaxes with tent-revival fury courtesy of L.A.'s House of Blues Gospel Choir.

All this, as well as super appearances from Dwight Yoakam, Jim Lauderdale, Jim James, Raul Malo, and Steve Earle. And I will leave some untapped joys for you to discover in what will definitely rank as one of the most talked about and much played concert DVDs, not just of this calendar year, but for ages to come.

In her touching remarks to the sold-out audience of this concert, Polly Parsons remarked, "May this gathering fill your soul and spirit in a way it has never been filled before."

Mission accomplished.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1:78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Another stellar presentation from Image, almost to the point that you feel you've traveled back in time to sit with the likes of Owen Wilson and Michael Des Barres at the Universal Amphitheater (call me Celeb Spotter!). Glittering on all levels; sharpness, black levels, you name it (and a first class job of directing by shot caller Mark Lucas and his production crew both on location and post production, by the way; superb editing by Ernie Fritz, too).

Image Transfer Grade: A+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes
DTSEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Same song, second verse. Beautiful, beautiful, bee-yu-ti-ful, wide stereo with stellar separation that's very kind to the many wonderful instrumental solos, and that emerges no matter what option you prefer of the three mixes contained (and hats off to the audio team that kept every one at the same volume level, which made it much easier on yours truly while test driving each soundtrack; I didn't have to wince or brace myself for the onslaught of DTS when changing over from Dolby Digital stereo). Speaking of which, for once, I have to give the blue ribbon to the DD 5.1 flavor, for it fares the best at recreating that magical hall ambience of a classic live album without breaking a sweat (but you won't go wrong with any of the mixes collected). Very nice work.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Music/Song Access with 25 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Polly Parsons and Shilah Morrow
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The disc's sole bonus is a worthy one, featuring a show-length audio commentary from Gram's only child, Polly Parsons, and her lifelong friend since childhood, Shilah Morrow. Together, the duo reflects on the emotional, often weary but ultimately rewarding journey of how this memorable concert was conceived. Doesn't sound like a premise to build 100 minutes of chatter upon, but wait until you hear it; the pair's wonderful, sincere patter never becomes dull, especially in the way Parsons courageously opens up her heart, revealing the fight against many of the same demons her father faced, and how coming to terms with his legacy made Return to Sin City such an emotionally rewarding experience.

By the way, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that all proceeds from the sale of this DVD will go to the MusicCares MAP Fund, an organization founded by Buddy and Carol Arnold to aid singers and musicians battling (and conquering) substance abuse.

Finally, although it's not mentioned in the packaging, there's a nice multi-page insert with an introduction by Polly, a well-written essay by writer Eric Shea (that's accompanied by a priceless Exile on Main Street-era photograph of Keith Richards and Gram), complete musician credits, and a list of dozens of individuals that made this show a living thing.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

An unforgettable night of words and music honoring one of music's most gifted talents is superbly presented in yet another wonderful concert DVD from the masters at Image. Indispensable.

 


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