Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
The International Submarine Band
Because guitarist/vocalist Bob Buchanan joined the International Submarine Band at the last minute—one of innumerable lineup changes the band underwent in its short life—he was added to the left-hand side of the cover of the group’s 1968 debut, Safe at Home. The original cover, which put lead singer Gram Parsons center stage between drummer/vocalist Jon Corneal and guitarist John Nuese, might seem more apt, given Parsons’ eventual cult status: Within six years, he would blaze through the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and two solo albums; die by overdose at the age of not-quite-27; and be cremated (illegally but in harmony with his wishes, the story goes) in the Joshua Tree desert. And the crackling Safe at Home, newly reissued on CD, won’t disappoint present-day fanners of the Parsons flame. His voice is rich and evocative, and though his songwriting contributions (he wrote three of the 10 tracks and co-wrote a fourth) are no match for, say, the two Cash covers or Jack Clement’s Southern Gothic “Miller’s Cave,” he’s confident in his craft. “Strong Boy,” a sort of pro-98-pound-weakling anthem, bounces along as insistently as “Do You Know How It Feels to Be Lonesome?” mopes; by blending rustic domesticity (“When the flowers wilt” rhymes with “big old quilt”) with pot references, lead-off “Blue Eyes” epitomizes the back-to-the-land movement that launched a thousand hippies. Still and all, it’s the post-Buchanan cover that best tells the album’s tale: Parsons deserves his following, but the tight and energetic Safe at Home is a group triumph. Corneal’s thumping, lively rhythms help the band cover “Folsom Prison Blues” without embarrassment. And Earl Ball’s feather-light piano fills (particularly on “Strong Boy”) together with Jay Dee Maness’ nimble pedal-steel do as much to establish the disc’s tone as Parsons’ voice. Once Parsons famously jumped ship, around the time of the album’s release, the alchemy didn’t last—though fittingly, Corneal, Maness, and Ball did join Parsons on the Byrds’ own country-rock touchstone, 1968’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo. As it happened, McGuinn’s crowd needed the help. Frustrated with David Crosby, the lore goes, they sacked him while recording The Notorious Byrd Brothers and replaced his album-cover image with a horse’s head. —Joe Dempsey