Emmylou has pulled off a good one.
After attracting a large audience of country-rock fans, the folks who usually get their country filtered through California sunshine by groups like the Eagles and Poco, with her first Warners lp, "Pieces of the Sky," she has now released an album of pure country. Any of the albums 12 songs, with the possible exception of the Lennon-McCartney tune, "Here, There and Everywhere," would fit in well between the latest singles of Conway Twitty and Dolly Parton on a hardcore country and western station.
That's not to say that the album will lose her any fans. On the contrary, it should pull any borderliners solidly into the country camp. "Elite Hotel" is what good country music is all about - impeccable arrangements whose music glows but doesn't flash and Emmylou's tough and tender vibrating soprano.
If anything, "Elite Hotel" is almost too perfect, dangerously close to those formula arrangements which make most straight Nashville country boring. She employed the same producer, Brian Ahern, and the same basic studio musicians (the core of Elvis Presley's band) and they leave no loose ends and none of the rough edges which gave the music of Gram Parson's its endless spontaneity.
Emmylou's passionate delivery, however, transcends any formulas and her choice of material is excellent - a mixture of country standards and new country. Like her first lp she includes only one of her own songs "Amarillo" an uptempo number, which pales in comparison to "Boulder to Birmingham," her beautiful sad ballad from "Pieces."
She follows "Amarillo" with a fine version of Buck Owens' "Together Again", a C&W cliche which she manages to renew with the help of fine compact breaks by peddle steel man Hank DeVito and Glen D. Hardin's piano. The song would have been still stronger had the strings not been added.
"Feelin' Single - Seein' Double" is another uptempo bar song followed by the album's best tune, one of three Gram Parsons' songs on the album, "Sin City." Emmylou pours it all into this karmic ballad from Parsons, the "Grievous Angel," whose songs were caught between raise-hell gambling bars and the cold dawn of God's "Burning Rain." John Starling's flexible harmonies are a beautiful compliment to Emmylou's voice, just as her's was for Parsons on his two solo albums.
The version of "Here, There and Everywhere" again with the strings, is too much middle-of-the-road and really doesn't fit with the country flavor of the rest of the album.
Generally, Emmylou seems better suited to slow country ballads than to the album's faster numbers like Parsons' "Ooh, Las Vegas" and especially Hank Williams' "Jambalaya."
Besides "Sin City" (which just has to be released as a straight country single), Don Gibson's "Sweet Dreams," a real country weeper about a love that won't go away, stands out, as does "Satan's Jewel Crown," an old hymn with Mike Auldridge's dobro glistening like those jewels and "Wheels" another old Parsons-Chris Hillman number, done as a duet with Jonathan Edwards.
Although many C&W station programmers may not know it yet, Emmylou Harris is the best thing country music has going these days. She has dissolved whatever was left of the barriers between the best of rock and country and released two albums which should be accessible to everyone form rednecks to "Dead" heads.
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