Thursday, November 1, 2007
Though she’d likely be modest about it, as you’d expect any good Alabama-born, Carolina-bred lady would be, Emmylou Harris has got what’s probably the greatest voice country music can claim these days. The doomed country-rocker Gram Parsons used the magical, high lonesomeness in Harris’ rangey, lilting soprano to give his own songs more earthy authenticity. She’s since worked with everyone from Bob Dylan and the Band to Gillian Welch and Ryan Adams. Yet her highest achievements have been under her own name, equipped with top-shelf backing cohorts like the Hot Band featuring pioneering guitarist James Burton and Spyboy including Buddy Miller.
The boxing up of all of this is Songbird, which finds Harris picking, choosing and compiling her favorite moments – largely lost and unheralded tracks – from her nearly 40 years in music. The 12-time Grammy winner has a lot of fine moments to cull from for this stunning five-disc compendium. In addition to key selections from her work with Parsons, she includes duets with everyone from the immortal Johnny Cash (“Jordan”) to the Pretenders (“Ooh Las Vegas”), and she is found delivering transcendent interpretations, like her emotional take on Leonard Cohen’s “Ballad of a Runaway Horse.”
The fifth disc is a DVD that includes a monumental pair of mid-1970s appearances from the BBC music show Old Grey Whistle Test with the Hot Band and a version of “Love Hurts” with Elvis Costello that approaches her gold-standard version with Parsons.