Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Great Music from Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris

I have gone far too long without showcasing the great talents of the amazing Emmylou Harris. I have so much respect for her for so many different reasons, the first and foremost being her incredible gift, that gorgeous singing voice. She has a remarkable, crystalline tone, seemingly never veering off whether singing harmony or taking the lead on the melody. That has been the case for the last five decades, and shows no signs of it being different any time soon. Raised in a military family, Harris moved around a bit after being born in Birmingham, Alabama. While attending college in Greensboro, North Carolina, her interest in music grew, studying the music of the great Folk artists like Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. She left school to pursue a career in music in New York City, and soon found herself a single mother, having divorced her first husband. She moved back with her parents, now living in a suburb of Washington, DC. After a time to settle in, Harris began performing once again, and it wasn't long before she was noticed. Soon she was working with Gram Parsons, touring and recording with him. This was really Emmylou's introduction to Country music, as Parsons was noted for his Country, stylized with Blues and Rock influences. However, when Parsons died in 1973 of an accidental overdose, Harris was deeply hurt, but translated that into her music, writing "Boulder To Birmingham", an early signature song. But it was also time for a new direction for Harris, and industry insiders took notice of her work, and soon she was under contract with Reprise Records. And that lead to her solo debut, 'Pieces of the Sky'.

Emmylou Harris - Pieces of the Sky

'Pieces of the Sky' was released in 1975, and was a stunningly beautiful album. There is such purity in Harris' vocals, and such an honesty in her delivery, it is hard not to fall in love. One of the great songs included on the album was "Too Far Gone", written by Billy Sherrill, best known for his work with the great Tammy Wynette. This is a gorgeous song, and was her first single. Although it didn't connect with the public in the 1975 release, it was re-released in 1978, and made it to #13 on the Billboard Country chart.

In December of 1975, Harris' sophomore effort hit the stores. 'Elite Hotel' was a great collection that featured two #1 singles on the Country charts, and three that made it to the Top 3. The first was "Together Again", written by the legendary Buck Owens. "One of These Days" made it to #3, solidifying Emmylou's position as a star on the rise.

Emmylou Harris - Elite Hotel

The third single off the album was "Sweet Dreams", the great song written by Don Gibson, and originally made famous by the immortal Patsy Cline. While many would try to stay away from the shadow cast by Cline, it was not a problem for Harris, whose great version made it to #1 on the Billboard Country chart.

But sometimes, it is not just the chart-topping songs that take notice. Emmylou garnered attention when she recorded "Here, There and Everywhere", part of the great catalog of Lennon/McCartney songs, although it is rumored to be written by Paul McCartney, and credited to him and his Beatles partner. It appeared on the 1966 album, 'Revolver' before it was a part of the album by Harris. But Harris gave her own interpretation of the song, and showed off her ability to take a standard not written for the Country audience, yet give it new life.

In 1979, Harris released 'Blue Kentucky Girl', her fifth studio album with Warner Brothers/Reprise. Between the fourth, 'Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town' and 'Blue Kentucky Girl', she moved toward a more traditional Country direction. She also enlisted some of her friends to support her on the album, including Tanya Tucker, Don Everly, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt.

Emmylou Harris - Blue Kentucky Girl

And while Emmylou continued to write and record her own music, she never stayed away from taking on an older song. One of those songs was the iconic "Save The Last Dance For Me", written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, and made famous in the 1960 recording by The Drifters, featuring the lead vocals of Ben E. King.

I will admit I first came into contact with her on her work with Linda Ronstadt, one of my all-time favorite vocalists. She would often sing harmonies on her albums, a wonderful collaboration. And it is hard to ignore the Emmylou joined forces with Ronstadt and Dolly Parton to release two albums billed as Trio. There was some amazing work done there. For a great collection of Emmylou's early music, check out 'Emmylou Harris Anthology: The Warner/Reprise Years' on iTunes and Amazon. To learn more about her, visit her official website.


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