Gram Parsons' legend is so great that it's easy for the neophyte to be skeptical about his music, wondering if it really is deserving of such effusive praise. Simply put, it is, and if you question the veracity of that statement, turn to Rhino's peerless double-disc set, Sacred Hearts and Fallen Angels: The Gram Parsons Anthology. This is the first truly comprehensive overview of Parsons' work, running from the International Submarine Band, through the Byrds, to the Flying Burrito Brothers and his two solo albums, scattering appropriate rarities or non-LP tracks along the way. This is no small feat, since it depends on extensive cross-licensing between record labels, plus concentration from the compilers, who won't allow personal biases to get in the way of telling the story. Miraculously, this happens, and the result is a lean, yet thorough, utterly addictive set that summarizes the brilliance of Gram Parsons, capturing his magnificent songwriting abilities and how he made country sound like rock & roll, while giving rock a sense of country's history. It's possible to complain about the handful of omissions -- "Break My Mind" is one of the greatest recordings he did with the Byrds, the version of "Do You Know How It Feels" is better with the Burritos, the barroom anthems of his solo records ("Cry One More Time," "Big Mouth Blues," "I Can't Dance," "Cash on the Barrellhead") gave the weepers context -- but this still hits every major point. After all, counting the early version of "Do You Know," only two songs are missing from The Gilded Palace of Sin and only four songs are missing from the two-fer of GP/Grievous Angel, plus this has the best of the ISB, Byrds, and songs that didn't make the solo album. So, even if there may be a personal favorite or two missing, nothing major is missing, which means this is a perfect, irresistible summation of Parsons' career, containing every great moment from all of his bands. His genius has never seemed purer than it does here, since it conveys the true scope of his talents and his career. If you are a fan of Parsons, this isn't necessary, even if it is an excellent listen (there's only one unreleased track, the ISB's "Knee Deep in the Blues"). If you haven't fallen in love with him, skip every other disc -- this is what you need. Once you hear it, there's no way that you won't become a life-long fan.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2