GRAND RAPIDS, MI -- On the cover of Emmylou Harris’ latest album, 2011’s “Hard Bargain,” the singer is ethereal, wrapped in some kind of gauzy white shawl and looking as if she might be about to time travel.
For a sold-out crowd at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park’s amphitheater Friday night, Harris was ethereal, otherworldly in the beauty of her voice and the unchanging, haunting quality to her music.
Take “My Name is Emmett Till,” from the new album. It sounds like a song as old as pain itself, and its true subject is a 14-year-old black boy who was killed in the 1950s for speaking to a woman “white as dough.” The song brought tears to eyes and made one wonder how such a thing could happen.
“Orphan Girl” is another such song, a ghostly tune that sounds as if it could have been sung 100 years ago or more.
Harris, a gentle and soulful creature, belied her age by looking and sounding just smashing. Her voice, a rich and complex instrument, was in top form throughout the show as she and her first-class band offered treasure after treasure.
“Red Dirt Girl,” “If I Need You” and “Bang the Drum Slowly” all unrolled peaceably and soulfully.
“Goodnight Old World,” a lullaby for granddaughter Prudence, was just lovely. Isn’t Prudence lucky to have a grandmother who can sing to her like that?
Harris varied a little over the evening, from folk to alt country to gospel and bluegrass. Every song built contentment in the crowd, each a piece of music that calmed and energized at the same time. “Born to Run” picked up the pace with some bouncy jamming and honky tonk piano.
She said little, but the singer did mention her age a few times. “I don’t want to lose a single precious year I have earned,” she said, proud of her 65 years.
Harris praised the beautiful venue, the receptive crowd, who, she said, “even brought your own chairs.”
Depending on one’s arrival time, it can be hard to score a good seat with a clear view at the venue. But even if you couldn’t see Emmylou, you could hear her, and that was ample reason enough to come.
for all the rest of my days...