Emmylou Harris: Transcending Both Church And Honky-tonk
Noel Coppage, Stereo Review June 1975
Country singers who are aware of the world that lies beyond the honky-tonk at one end of Main Street or the church at the other (and all that triangulating Family Life in between) are not as rare as that once were, but still we haven't been inundated with females ones of that sort. Hold on to your hat or whatever, then, and prepare to be overrun by Emmylou Harris, the best new thing I've been flattened by lately.
Emmylou produced an album in 1970, but she produced a child at about the same time and retired temporarily, later to sing on a couple of the late Gram Parson's albums. Now "Pieces of the Sky," her first for Reprise, is freshly released, and it is rich and solid. The songs are country (mostly), and the backing (headed up by Elvis Presley's crew) is worldly- country, almost slick, and, in a very quiet way, spectacular. Brian Ahern, whose production of Anne Murray's albums has often left me peevish and morose, does a precision job here.
It occurs to me that Ms. Harris may have some trouble with fidgety listeners because her voice sounds something like Linda Ronstadt's, but the song selection and arrangements lead to the kind of relaxed, open minded listening in which differences rather than sameness become important. Emmylou's voice is smooth, it has good range and a lovely tone that shimmers on the high notes, and she compliments all this with a folksinger's straightforward phrasing. She puts across the too-rural-to-be-modern-country air of a Dolly Parton song (Coat of Many Colors), introduces another (Boulder to Birmingham) she wrote with Bill Danoff (he who co-authored Take Me Home, Country Roads with John Denver), does well by Merle Haggard, the Louvin Brothers - you name it. Even a slow-as-molasses experiment with Lennon and McCartney's For No One seems to work, profiting as it does from a wondrously economical and deeply felt electric guitar solo by Amos Garrett. The "regular" (Elvis') guitarist, James Burton, plays with similar economy and fine style, and it's all just...well, it's so good I've been sitting around here instead of making the rounds. The church and the honky-tonk could've both burned down for all I know.
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