Sunday, February 19, 2006

Vinyl Vault: Emmylou Harris "Luxury Liner"

I'm still unpacking things from the non-hurricane we had several months back and this little beauty was the first thing that caught my eye. And what a treat it is. This is Emmylou slowly separating herself from singing partner Gram Parson with baby steps(2 tracks are penned by Parsons). Harris and her Hot Band are here to show that traditional country music could stand side by side with modern rock and create something as true and long lasting. She shows her forward motion by recording songs by outsider artists(Susanna Clark's "I'll Be Your San Antone Rose", Rodney Crowell's "You're Supposed To Be Feeling Good") and placing them in juxtaposition with country benchmarks(A.P. Carter's "Hello Stranger", Ira & Charlie Louvin's "When I Stop Dreaming").
Each side kicks off with upbeat, hip shaking tunes that are pure western swing. The title track has a wonderful "surf" tone to its lead guitar that would make Dick Dale proud. While side B begins with a splendid rendition of Chuck Berry's "C'est La Vie" that is said to have "blown away" Mr. Goode.
But just as soon as you've swallowed these quick paced foot stomping nuggets, Harris gets down to business in a flash. The remaining tunes are full of sweet pining and longing remorse. Her voice is so effortless and magical that you can't help but be seduced by its pixie-like tone. When not accompanying herself on vocal harmonies, she's joined by the likes of Dolly Parton, Rodney Crowell, Nicolette Larson and Fayssoux Starling(I LOVE that name!).
Only once does she push her vocal chords to the raspy side, but to great effect. During a particularly poignant moment in the Parsons penned "She", Harris roars out the phrase "Oh, Hallelujah!" with such gusto it creates a chilling goose bump moment that sounds as if Bonnie Tyler herself has stepped up to the mike just for that brief moment. While the lyrics, "Didn't mind if she wasn't very pretty/For deep inside his heart he knew/She was the only one/Oh, but she sure could sing/My, my she sure could sing." are enough to break the heart of even the cruelest man.
The crowning jewel to the collection is the first ever recorded cover version of Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho & Lefty". I'm sure you've heard Willie & Waylon's version a million times and this version is every bit as breathtaking and powerful(if not, more so) than the one they would record a few years later. To hear Harris relive the story of these two scroungy nair-do-wells is a ear filling delight indeed. Do yourself a favor and search this one out. You won't be disappointed.
The album is Emmylou in one of her finest(among many) shining moments and truly reveals her to be a progressive pioneer in modern country music.
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iPod Song of the Day: "Carless Soul" from Daniel Johnston's self titled album
This is a live performance done acapella before a handful of listeners that is as truthful and heartbreaking as they come, folks. It's sure to bring a tear to your eye as Daniel struggles to complete the song with his voice cracking from emotion. A riveting, earth-shattering performance done by memory in front of a New York City audience. Here's the mp3.
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