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Voices in the Hall: Emmylou Harris (Part One)

BMPAudio February 12, 2019

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About Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris ranks among the most significant recording artists in the history of country and pop music. For more than 40 years, she has released music of merit and consequence. She’s won 14 Grammys, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. She has recorded with Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Neil Young, and dozens of other culture-shakers. The first of two special episodes of Voices in the Hall, this conversation was recorded live in the CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Peter on Episode 11: Emmylou Harris – Part 1

When aspiring country music artists move to Nashville, in search of inspiration and edification, they should either bring some extra cash with them or work odd jobs until they have earned enough money to purchase the complete works of Emmylou Harris.

Everything you need to know is in there: song sensibility . . . wildly inventive arrangements that enliven but don’t distract . . . a voice that morphs from bell-tone pure in early years to deeper, rawer, and richer through the decades . . . a who’s who of contributing musicians, always playing to better the song and the performance, without regard for flash or flourish.

Oh, and the singing . . . the way that Harris listens and responds when serving as a harmony vocalist, and the way she commits to melody and emotes from the inside out, rather than employing the vocal gymnastics that have grown tiresome in our age of televised singing competitions.

Throughout her voluminous catalog, Harris has afforded her material, her players, her producers, and her collaborators with a loving respect that brings out the best in every song and in every musician. She ought to be the model for thousands of would-be recording artists, though Harris eschews imitation and replication, so the whole copycat thing would be heretical.

So if ours is not to copy, it is to listen, and in the listening will come learning and some measure of comprehension of why Emmylou Harris is among the most impactful forces of country music’s past five decades. She has numerous Grammy awards, a bunch of lifetime achievement prizes and the like for her efforts, but those grand notices don’t carry the weight of her songs, heard one at a beautiful time.

“Boulder to Birmingham.”

“If I Could Only Win Your Love.”

“Beneath Still Waters.”

Her incredible take on Paul Simon’s “The Boxer,” featuring The Whites on harmony vocals.

“Orphan Girl.”

“Red Dirt Girl.”

All the rest, as well.

In two episodes of Voices in the Hall, Harris talks about her extraordinary journeys.


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