Posts Tagged ‘Emmylou Harris’

(Photo by Diane Wilkes)

I witnessed the past, present and future of country music this week – not once, but twice.

Last night, before a sold-out house at Memorial Hall on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, N.C., Emmylou Harris and band traveled down country music’s historic highways and lesser-known byways, as well as a few roads she paved herself.

The 20-song set surveyed her storied career, in other words, which has often found her giving new life to old classics. Songs by the Louvin Brothers, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Bill Monroe, the Country Gentlemen and Merle Haggard – all of which she’s also recorded – were sprinkled throughout the show, though for me the night’s highlight was her rendition of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Old Five and Dimers Like Me.” She recorded it for her 2008 All I Intended to Be album but, as she explained while introducing it, identifies with the lyrics all the more now that she’s 72. Other highlights included a rockin’ rendition of Neil Young’s “Long May You Run” (which she recorded back in ’82) and the encore, her own “Boulder to Birmingham.”

Two nights earlier, before a sparse crowd at the Local 506 club in Chapel Hill, Kelsey Waldon and her crack band razed the roof with a high-octane sonic concoction that barely left the rest of the building’s structure intact. The performance rocked the soul, in other words. Over the course of an 80-minute set, the Kentucky born-and-bred country singer-songwriter demonstrated that all the good press she’s been getting is well deserved. She’s a force to be reckoned with.

“Kentucky 1988,” from her recent White Noise/White Lines album, was one highlight:

Another: “Lived and Let Go,” which was the second half of a two-song acoustic set.

She also performed a few covers, opening with Bill Monroe’s “Travelin’ Down This Lonesome Road” (which she recorded on her 2016 I’ve Got a Way album) and including a rockin’ rendition of Neil Young’s “Are You Ready for the Country” mid-set. (In the past, as I discovered this morning, she’s also covered Neil’s “Powderfinger” – wish I’d heard that this night. But c’est la vie.) She also placed Bill Withers “Heartbreak Road” as the penultimate song of the night, right before her own “All by Myself.” The combination, and thematic interplay between the two, was perfect.

Back in the ‘70s, Emmy’s oeuvre was essentially a sonic bridge between country music’s past, present and future. It still is. And, in almost every respect, Kelsey’s doing the same. Maybe she’s not re-introducing yesteryear classics to modern listeners at the same rate that Emmy once did, but she’s definitely digging up and sharing the genre’s roots all the same. At its best, after all, country music relates and celebrates the ups and downs, foibles and fables, heartaches and heartbreaks, of common folk. That’s what Kelsey does in her songs. If or when she comes to your town, don’t think twice. Go see her.

Emmylou 11/8/2019: Easy From Now On; One of These Days; Millworker; How High the Moon; Ooh Las Vegas; Red Dirt Girl; Get Up John; Calling My Children Home; Kern River; Making Believe; If I Needed You; Pancho & Lefty; Goin’ Back to Harlan; Old Five and Dimers Like Me; Michelangelo; Tulsa Queen; Wheels; Born to Run; Long May You Run; Boulder to Birmingham

Kelsey 11/6/2019: Travelin’ This Lonesome Road; Kentucky 1988; Havin’ Hard Times; High in Heels; Anyhow; Sunday’s Children; Run Away; White Noise/White Lines; You Can Have It; Are You Ready for the Country; There Must Be Someone; New Song; Lived and Let Go; Black Patch; Dirty Old Town; Very Old Barton; The Heartbreak; Heartbreak Road; All by Myself

Australian country singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers returns to her roots on this, her 12th studio outing. In the press release announcing it, she explained that “I grew up in the remote outback of Australia living a unique lifestyle isolated from civilization. The campfire was the heart of our existence: for survival, creativity, inspiration. We hunted all our own food and then cooked it on the campfire. My brother and I did all our schooling via correspondence around the campfire. We used the campfire for warmth and light. We gathered around the campfire at night to play songs together as a family. Our connection to music and the land has developed through and around the campfire since I was born, so it has always stayed with me as a special part of my life.”

Accompanying her: Brandon Dodd of Grizzlee Train, who’s been part of Kasey’s touring ensemble for a few years now; Alan Pigram of the Pigram Brothers, a longtime family friend and Aussie indigenous elder; and the man who led her family into the outback all those years ago, her dad, Bill Chambers. Guitars often chug along, a harmonica wails, and voices come together as one or, as often, with a call-and-response that’s as joyous to hear as it must have been to sing. About the only thing missing: a campfire crackling in the background.

But make no mistake: This isn’t a collection of stereotypical campfire songs, many of which are kid-friendly sing-alongs that date to the 18th and 19th centuries. (Think “Home on the Range,” “Bingo Was His Name-O” and “The Hokey Pokey,” which I recall singing on a fifth-grade camp weekend.) No, by and large, these songs address such topics as life, love, longing, death, and (as evidenced by the above clip) David vs. Goliath. One speaks directly to Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. (“Oh we failed you Abraham, we’ve come unstuck/so many times you’ve bailed me out/oh we failed to understand and fucked it up/we laughed out loud/nobody’s laughing now…”)

Another highlight: “The Harvest & the Seed,” which features a guest appearance by Emmylou Harris.

Yet another spellbinding song is “Now That You’ve Gone.” Last year, after seeing Kasey in concert, I wrote that her vocals bypass the ears for the heart and soul – this is a good example of what I meant then. Built from the same cloth as “Ain’t No Little Girl,” it’s a vocal tour de force (and a guaranteed showstopper in concert, I think).

By album’s end, the darkness recedes with a few songs one can actually imagine singing with kids around a campfire – “This Little Chicken,” the metaphoric “Fox & the Bird,” and “Happy.” They’re sly and fun, and further burnish what is a stellar set of songs.

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

In February 1985. Emmylou Harris released her 11th album, The Ballad of Sally Rose. I bought it on vinyl on the 17th of that month, a Sunday, and liked it so much that, a few weeks later, I picked it up on cassette so that I could listen to it while driving my new old car, a ’79 Chevette. I also scored tickets to see her at the Academy of Music in Philly around the same time. In my Of Concerts Past piece about that show, I mentioned that it’s not necessarily her best work. It is, however, one of her most ambitious efforts. A true flawed masterpiece.

A concept album inspired by her relationship with Gram Parsons, the songs – written by Emmy and her husband at the time, Paul Kennerly – chart the story of a young woman who falls for a charismatic singer only to be wooed away from him by the promise of stardom. And just when she realizes her mistake and sets out to rejoin him…he dies in a car crash. Bad news, huh?

The scan, by the way, is of the flyer handed out at that 1985 concert, and it explains the story in a bit more depth.

As with many concept albums, the set’s weakness comes from having to tell a cohesive story over a succession of songs that also need to be able to stand alone. While the music remains strong throughout, lyrically a few tracks fall short. The flip side is this: Many are just plain great. The title cut, which kicks off the album, for instance, would have been at home on any of Emmy’s non-concept albums:

As I note in that Of Concerts Past piece, “Rhythm Guitar” and “Woman Walk the Line” are memorable, too. Likewise, the rest of Side One – up until “Bad News,” which doesn’t quite work. Side Two has its moments, as well, and the closing “Sweet Chariot” is sheer genius.

Here’s a YouTube playlist of the album in full:

Side One:

  1. The Ballad of Sally Rose
  2. Rhythm Guitar
  3. I Think I Love Him
  4. Heart to Heart
  5. Woman Walk the Line
  6. Bad News
  7. Timberline

Side Two:

  1. Long Tall Sally Rose
  2. White Line
  3. Diamond in My Crown
  4. The Sweetheart of the Rodeo
  5. KSOS
  6. Sweet Chariot

Since the news broke last night of his death, there have likely been a million blog posts written about Chuck Berry. Here’s one more:

The above single, which I purchased as a young teen during the late 1970s, was my first Chuck Berry purchase. A few years later, like many other music fans, I picked up The Great Twenty-Eight, a double-LP set that collected his classic songs. The last Chuck Berry purchase was likely in 1987, when I picked up the soundtrack to the Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll film, which spotlighted two all-star concerts celebrating his 60th birthday. In between, and before and since, I’ve enjoyed his music in its original form as well as via covers and borrowed (aka stolen) tunes –

Like every other fan of rock music, in other words.

To describe his importance to the genre is just about impossible. However, he was not – as too many of the obits I’ve seen are headlined, the “father of rock ’n’ roll.” That’s a simplistic, and just plain wrong, summary of rock history. His first single, “Maybellene,” was released in 1955, a year after Elvis Presley’s seminal “That’s Alright, Mama” – and, as Elvis told Jet magazine in 1957, “rock ‘n’ roll was here a long time before I came along.” (This Wikipedia entry does a solid job of showing just how long.) That said, he was instrumental to its success – as its first poet laureate and guitar great. As the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame puts it in their bio of him, “If Elvis Presley cracked open the door for rock & roll, Chuck Berry kicked it wide open—and did his signature duck walk over it for good measure.”

Here he is with, perhaps, his most famous pick-up band: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concert in 1996.

And here he is on The Mike Douglas Show in 1972. Following the interview, he performs with John Lennon, who was co-hosting the weekday talk show’s that week.

Here’s Chuck with Keith Richards and an all-star band (via the 1987 Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll movie):

And now, for today’s top 5, Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Forgets:

1) Bob Seger – “Carol” (1971).

2) Emmylou Harris & the Hot Band – “C’est La Vie,” 1977.

3) George Thorogood & the Delaware Destroyers – “No Particular Place to Go,” 1979.

4) Paul McCartney – “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.” From Later With Jools Holland in 1999 (with his Run Devil Run band, including Dave Gilmour and Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice).

5) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “You Can Never Tell” (2013).

And, finally, one of the greatest non-Chuck Berry songs to both channel him and explain his influence (“all of Chuck’s children are out there playing his licks”):

Bob Seger – “Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Forgets”