Artistically speaking, Emmylou Harris was born as the angelic soprano who
accompanied Gram Parsons' urban nightmares.
She had briefly been a folksinger in New York's Greenwich Village, an experience
that yielded the album Gliding Bird (Jubilee, 1969), and had relocated
to Washington, where Parsons discovered her. After Parsons died, Harris
moved to Los Angeles and began popularizing his work.
Her own Boulder To Birmingham and the Louvin Brothers'
If I Could Only Win Your Love grace her new debut album,
Pieces of Sky (Reprise, 1975), that announced a major folk, rock and
Her own Amarillo, Buck Owen's Together Again
and Sweet Dreams on Elite Hotel (1976),
Townes van Zandt's Poncho And Lefty on Luxury Liner (1977),
Rodney Crowell's Leaving Louisiana and
the feminist To Daddy on Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town (1978),
increased her reputation.
She also had a hit with Delbert McClinton's Two More Bottles Of Wine (1978).
Harris then embraced Nashville production values in a trilogy of traditional
Blue Kentucky Girl (1979), with Dallas Frazier's Beneath Still Waters;
Light Of The Stable (1979), a terrible collection of Christmas carols:
and Roses in the Snow (1980), her bluegrass album,
with Beneath Still Waters and a somber mood borrowed from the spirituals,
the best of the three. She was at the peak of her popularity.
Evangeline (1981) returned to her original country-rock style
(Robbie Robertson's Evangeline, Rodney Crowell's I Don't Have To Crawl).
If I Needed You and
How High the Moon on Cimarron (1981),
On Our Last Date on Last Date (1982)
were more conventional, but the
rock and soul album White Shoes (1983), with In My Dreams and
Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend, showed that she could still
deal with stronger material.
Relocating to Nashville, Harris "designed" two
personal and conceptual works: The Ballad of Sally Rose (1985),
and Thirteen (1986), with
Merle Haggard's Today I Started Loving You Again.
Also noteworthy was the home-made recording The Angel Band (1987).
After a publicity stint with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt which yielded
the terrible album Trio (1987), which climbed the charts thanks to
the Teddy Bears' To Know Him Is To Love Him,
and a set of (even worse) Duets (1988), including the hit
We Believe In Happy Endings,
she had become the personification of "sell-out".
Bluebird (1989), with John Hiatt's Icy Blue Heart and
her own Heartbreak Hill,
Brand New Dance (1990),
Cowgirl's Prayer (Asylum, 1993),
Songs of the West (1994)
simply cashed in on a winning commercial formula.
Harris made a major artistic gamble with a rock album,
Wrecking Ball (1995), atmospherically produced by Daniel Lanois,
which includes her
own Waltz Across Texas Tonight, two Lanois songs (Where Will I Be)
and a tasteful selection of folk and rock covers
(Anna McGarrigle's Goin' Back to Harlan).
The merits of the album
are in the production and in the choice of material, and partly in her
Portraits (Warner, 1996) is a three-CD anthology.
After the live album Spyboy (Eminent, 1998),
and another rip-off with Parton and Ronstadt, Trio II (1999),
Harris finally gave the masterpiece of her career:
Red Dirt Girl (Nonesuch, 2000), the first collection of songs that are
all co-written by her. She pours her heart into
Bang the Drum Slowly (one of country music's masterpieces),
The Pearl, Tragedy,
My Baby Needs a Shepherd, while the arrangements are Lanois-esque
without being impersonal.
Harris did not repeat that miracle on
Stumble Into Grace (Nonesuch, 2003), although the album still features
Here I Am, Time in Babylon and the catchy Jupiter Rising.
All The Roadrunning (2006) was a collaboration with
All I Intended To Be (Nonesuch, 2008) contains mostly covers.
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