Tag Archives: Emmylou Harris

Louvin Brothers Eight Classic Albums

10 Apr

LouvinBros8

This four CD reissue set appears on the Real Gone label (RGMCD062) and comprises the whole of the eight LPs that were released originally on the Capitol label between 1956 and 1960. There’s no date on the package but I got it a few weeks ago.  The package includes what others suggest are probably the brothers’ two finest collections. These are ‘Tragic Songs of Life’ (from 1956) and the wonderfully weird ‘Satan is Real’ (1960) which was issued originally with one of the most distinctive album covers ever (not in this compilation sadly).

The sound quality is good but otherwise the package is a bit sparse (no liner notes or composer credits). That said, the price was less than you’d pay for a single full price CD.

I first came across the Louvin Brothers (Ira and Charlie) via composer credits on Emmylou Harris albums (‘Making Believe’ and ‘If I Could Only Win Your Love’)  and then through Gram Parsons and the Byrds (The Christian Life’ from their 1968 ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ album) before reading about their larger-than-life story in Nicholas Dawidoff’s excellent 1997 book ‘In the Country of Country’. Although the subject matter can be remarkably kitsch and sentimental or aligned to a very particular religious tradition, it is redeemed by the stonkingly fine vocal performances and great tunes.

There are 96 tracks in this collection and the ones I’ve found myself returning to are the earliest ones (‘Tragic Songs of Life’) especially the songs ‘Kentucky’, ‘Alabama’ and ‘Knoxville Girl’ .where the instrumentation is pretty sparse which allows the brothers’ harmonies to come to the fore.

Elite Hotel

30 May

Elite Emmylou

I can remember exactly where I was when I decided that I had to have this, the first country rock album I ever bought.  I was sitting in a pub in Bradford, drinking beer with three equally under-age schoolfriends! We were studying for our A-levels (a national school exam English children take at age 18) and on a geography field trip to Yorkshire. On this day, groups of us  had been dropped from our coach at different points around the periphery of the city with instructions to record the changing land use as we walked to our rendezvous in the central business district. Since we were fairly smart kids, we realised that, if we could find a pub to serve us, we could have a convivial lunch and then ride into the city centre by bus, straight down the arterial road,  noting the different zones as we went.

And so, I first heard Emmylou Harris sing her achingly beautiful cover of  Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ on the jukebox of a dodgy Bradford pub – and was smitten by her voice so much that I’m still buying her music more than 35 years later!  Having heard that one track, I had to search out this artist – and then had the bonus of finding out from the LP covers that Ms Harris was extraordinarily attractive too! In an era when country music meant women with big hair standing by their men she was HOT in a way that meant she had no problem crossing over to a rock audience of teenage boys!

Elite Hotel, issued in 1975, was Emmylou’s second ‘proper’ solo album (third overall if you count a very early effort) following two further albums with the late Gram Parsons – and it oozes class and quality.

Prominent among  the backing musicians are the great James Burton on guitar, Glen D. Hardin on piano with Bill Payne, Hank DeVito and Emory Gordy also in the mix. Along with a young Rodney Crowell,  both Bernie Leadon (lately of the Eagles) and Linda Ronstadt – both of whom were better known than Emmylou at the time – added backing vocals.

The songs are well chosen. Ms Harris tips her hat to Gram Parsons by recording the Flying Burrito Brothers’ ‘Sin City’ and ‘Ooh Las Vegas’, pays her Country dues by covering Hank Williams (‘Jambalaya’) and Buck Owen (‘Together Again’) and gives a career boost to Rodney Crowell (her co-writer on ‘Amarillo’ and sole credit on ‘Till I Gain Control Again’).

My CD version of the album, bought just a  couple of years ago,  is on WEA/Reprise/Rhino (8122-78109-2) and is tastefully remastered, with a couple of bonus tracks  ‘You’re running Wild’ and ‘Cajun Born’) plus sleeve notes and lyrics which is more than the original issue which just had personnel listings for each track.

Desire

22 Apr

Desire

I’ve been thinking for a few days about how, when and what to include in this blog’s first Bob Dylan post and this seemed the right place for me.  Desire was my second Dylan purchase (I’d got the ‘Greatest Hits’ LP earlier to capture all those songs I’d absorbed into my personal soundtrack pretty much unconsciously!) but this was when I took the plunge for real back in 1976.

What tipped the scales was a piece written in a fanzine/unofficial school magazine called ‘Turdus’ which appeared for two or three issues when I was about 17 and to which I contributed in a tiny way by typing up stencils for the duplicator (this is how it was done before photocopying was cheap enough for a low-budget operation!). Written by someone who’s left my school one or two years before, it was an account of encountering the legendary Rolling Thunder tour which followed the recording of this album. This was clearly an event which inspired writers since I also own full-length books by Sam Shepperd (Rolling Thunder Logbook, Penguin 1977) and Larry Sloman ( On the Road with Bob Dylan: Rolling with the Thunder, Bantam Books 1978) – both recommended –  about  this period

Rolling Thunder appears to have been a weird but magical experience when Dylan was joined on a low-key tour of New England by ex- paramour Joan Baez, Mick Ronson,Allen Ginsburg, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and sundry others.

Although there are now other Dylan albums I enjoy more, was my favourite for several years and is still played frequently. One reason is the wonderful violin of Scarlet Rivera which gives the album a really distinctive sound. Another reason is the presence of Emmylou Harris on backing vocals (though on the opening track the voice is Ronee Blakely). The main reason, of course, are the songs, many of which are  (unusually for Dylan) co-written with theatre director Jacques Levy and which include several story-songs with a cinematic quality (listen for example to  ‘Black Diamond Bay’ to see what I mean).

There are just nine tracks on Desire – but two (the opener ‘Hurricane’ and closer ‘Sara’) are up there with Dylan’s finest. ‘Hurricane’ is an eight and a half minute protest song about the (wrongful) conviction of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter with Dylan spitting out a dense stream of poetic lyrics. It’s great! In contrast ‘Sara’ (by Dylan alone) is a diretc, aching lovesong to his then-wife and perhaps the most overtly personal song he’s done “(I can still hear the sound of those Methodist bells/I’d taken the cure and had just gotten through/ Staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel/Writing Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands for You”) . The weakest tracks are ‘Mozambique’ (an in joke to find how many rhymes to find with the title apparently) and the second protest song (‘Joey’) which, rather unconvincingly, over-romanticisesthe career and death of a Mafia Don. Of the rest, I still like two ‘journey’ songs (‘Isis’ and ‘Romance in Durango’ which starts with the memorable line “Hot chilli peppers in the blistering sun.”

Overall, the collection hangs together rather well and the overall sound remains intriguing.

Old Yellow Moon

6 Apr

HarrisCrowell

By Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell (2013, Nonesuch Records catalogue in UK 7559-79599-9). One of my first 2013 CD purchases and rather good it is too! Ms Harris and Mr Crowell first came together when she hired him to join her Hot Band back in the 1970s. He stayed for a few albums before branching out into a solo career. I’ve got a few of his albums and a lot of hers so it’s pleasing to hear them together again. You can hear how well they know how each other sings and plays through experience (rather more so than the less natural-sounding Emmylou Harris/Mark Knoplfer collaboration). Production is by Brian Ahern (Emmylou’s former husband) who also produced their earlier work.This is very much a Country album. The outstanding tracks for me include the least countrified ‘Spanish Dancer’ (by Patti Scialfa)(a.k.a. Mrs Springsteen), ‘Hanging Up My Heart’ by another Hot Band alumnus (Hank DeVito) and a couple of Crowell compositions, ‘Bull Rider’ and a jaunty re-working of ‘Bluebird Wine’ which Emmylou first recorded in 1975. It’s hardly worth saying that she sings like an angel since she does on pretty much everything!