This week sees the elder statesman of Best Fit, Andrew Dowdall, go weak at the knees for his one, true, love Emmylou Harris.
In praise of older women – or one in particular. You might want to get some tissues handy. I’m not one for retrospective boxed sets – a bit of glossy artwork and a few filler ‘rarities’ to pad out a generally overpriced ‘best of’ package. But if there’s one person I can make an exception for, it’s Emmylou Harris. An artist so revered in my house that even a period of dodgy late 80′s big hair cannot dent the incomparable towering majesty of her talent. A voice to make you go weak at the knees if you have not already assumed the position to bow down and worship as that of a goddess.
Still criminally ignored by the Country Music Hall of Fame, and generally spurned by populist playlist US radio, Harris has followed her own particular path ever since her heartbreak at the death of Gram Parsons, nurturing the careers of many who started in her own band and collaborating with a “Who’s Who” of greats from many genres over the decades: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Ryan Adams, Beck, Springsteen, etc., etc. She reinvented herself as a left-field artist deserving of even your indie attention, dear reader, with the masterful The Wrecking Ball in 1995, produced by Daniel Lanois. At the same time, the breadth of her range saw her becoming a leading figure in the roots country/Americana revival seen with the release of the film O Brother Where Art Thou?. As the New York Times said of her crystalline but somehow exquisitely flawed voice, it “inhabits her songs like a wraith, intangible but omnipresent.” Just a faltering whisper can knock me sideways.
The new collection, Songbird: Rare Tracks And Forgotten Gems, has been personally put together by Emmylou to highlight her musical journey – those songs she loves rather than the usual choices for the previous ‘Best Of’ anthologies (which have never quite seem to match my taste anyway), and many duets and more obscure releases that deserve more attention. Those songs originating from the Jesse James film soundtrack in particular are worth seeking out. Altogether it weighs in at 4 CDs and a DVD for under 35 quid (Dear Santa, this year I’d like …). Plus there’s a new studio album due in the spring of next year.
An annual headliner at San Francisco’s free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Emmylou is almost always joined on the bill by Gillian Welch and Steve Earle – all friends who have toured together in the past – often in support of various campaigns, such as a Landmine Free World. This year is no exception, with Jeff Tweedy and Nick Lowe also expected highlights, plus Augie March, Michelle Shocked, Fionn Regan, and Charlie Louvin. Worth travelling for? I thought so – stay tuned for a report here, if I can get it past the TLOBF style police (Hey! – Ed). Meanwhile, enjoy an unreleased demo mp3 from Emmylou – “Never Be Gold”, from the Red Dirt Girl sessions, and two YouTube goodies I’ve picked out. Still got those tissues? Good, you’ll need them to wipe away the tears.