Gram Parsons imagined a countercultural fusion of country, soul and rock ‘n’ roll he called Cosmic American Music, but ultimately his approach to making records was too haphazard and intuitive for a vision as grand and calculated as all that. Wedding the vulnerability of “Dark End Of The Street” to the stolid resolve of “Crying Time”, what Parsons did, in his disheveled way, was treat country as white soul music.
The first glimpse of this protean synthesis (Parsons was always more of an alchemist than an innovator) was the shuffle-rich Safe At Home. The 25-minute LP came out on Lee Hazelwood’s LHI label in early 1968. Inspiring the album, which despite the group billing was, in effect, Parsons’ solo debut, were the less-is-more records that were coming out of Nashville, Memphis and Muscle Shoals at the time. Yet with piano, steel and drums skittering all over most tracks, the playing on much of Safe At Home is, ironically, anything but lean.
Hungry, yes, and the Submarine Band’s loose-limbed grooves certainly lend themselves to the record’s tattered covers of chestnuts by Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, and Hank Snow — and to Parsons’ laconic, ever-on-the-verge-of-cracking drawl. This is especially the case when, on “Miller’s Cave”, Gram wraps his aching tenor around the line about the girl from his boyhood home of Waycross, Georgia. That said, Parsons’ wavering pitch and stiff delivery on “Knee Deep In The Blues”, included as a bonus track on this vinyl-only reissue, should have listeners scurrying for their copies of Marty Robbins’ still-unsurpassed hit version from 1957.
In the end, though, it was the Parsons originals on Safe At Home that augured the ragged glory of Gilded Palace Of Sin, his first album with the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Grievous Angel, his second and final solo LP. There’s his initial pass at “Do You Know How It Feels To Be Lonesome”, which, crossed with the Sub Band’s Wagonerian reading of “A Satisfied Mind”, sounds like the basis for the immortal “Hickory Wind”. Better still are “Blue Eyes” and “Luxury Liner”, which that comprised the two sides of the first single off Safe At Home. The former, a statement of purpose hooked by the lines “I bite my nails, and if that fails, I go get myself stoned/But when I do, I think of you, and head myself back home,” betrays an ethos that’s hippie and hillbilly in equal measure. The latter, with its tricked-up shuffle beat, is the sound of Gram’s headstrong bus pulling out of the station.