The Life and Songs of Emmylou Harris

On January 10, 2015, a group of great performers came together at Washington, DC’s DAR Constitution Hall to honor Emmylou Harris. To celebrate Harris’s work, Rounder is releasing DVD and CD versions of The Life & Songs of Emmylou Harris: An All-Star Concert Celebration, created and produced by Blackbird Presents.

The performers on the DVD and CD feature many of my favorite artists. The package includes music by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Sheryl Crow, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Vince Gill, Patty Griffin, Chris Hillman, Iron & Wine, Alison Krauss, Kris Kristofferson, Daniel Lanois, Martina McBride, Buddy Miller, Conor Oberst, Mavis Staples, Sara Watkins, Lee Ann Womack, and Lucinda Williams.

Of course, the celebration would not be complete without Emmylou Harris. She performs “Boulder to Birmingham,” a song she co-wrote about Gram Parsons after he passed away. The song originally appeared on Harris’s 1975 album Pieces of the Sky.

Below, Harris performs “Boulder to Birmingham” at the celebration concert with a little help from her friends. She begins singing the song alone before the others join her onstage. It is not much of a stretch to see the symbolism in the arrangement, considering how Harris must have felt so alone after Parson’s death. But her fans and colleagues, who in many ways are children of Gram Parsons, remind her that she is not alone. It is a beautiful song, and this performance is a nice arrangement.

The Life & Songs Of Emmylou Harris: An All-Star Concert Celebration will be released in various forms on November 11, 2016.

What is your favorite Emmylou Harris song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell On “The Traveling Kind”

    Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell are following up their duets album Old Yellow Moon (2013) by teaming up again on The Traveling Kind. The album, which will be released May 12, is produced by Joe Henry and will feature eleven songs, with six written by Harris and Crowell.

    Below is the title track from the new album, “The Traveling Kind.” Check it out.

    The album will also include a cover of Lucinda Williams’s “I Just Wanted to See You So Bad.”

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    I May Drown in Still Waters

    One of my favorite songs by Merle Haggard is “Kern River.” The song has one of the greatest lines ever written, “I may drown in still waters but I’ll never swim Kern River again.” The line tells you everything you need to know about the song about longing, sadness, loss, and memory.

    Haggard wrote “Kern River” and released the song in 1985 as the title track of the album Kern River. The song was not a number one hit, but it went up to number 10 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. Haggard performs his classic below on Ralph Emery’s show as Porter Wagoner looks on, noting that Haggard “is a dangerous man with a song.” Check it out.

    Wagoner is not the only fan of the song. Rolling Stone lists “Kern River” among the essential Merle Haggard songs. Allmusic claims “Kern River” is “one of Merle’s best latter-day songs.”

    Other notable artists have praised “Kern River.” Bob Dylan loves the song, noting the song “is a beautiful lament, but let’s not forget it’s about his girlfriend dying.” Emmylou Harris has claimed that “Kern River” is her favorite Merle Haggard song, and she has recorded her own version of it. Check out her version with images of the real Kern River.

    The real Kern River flows around 165 miles through California, draining around the southern Sierra Nevada mountains northeast of Bakersfield, a town often associated with Haggard for “the Bakersfield sound.” Also, Haggard grew up near Kern River, later building a mansion on the river. The Lake Shasta mentioned in the song is a real place too. Haggard owned a cabin on the still waters of the lake.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    The First Farm Aid

    On September 22, 1985, the first “Farm Aid” was held in Champaign, Illinois. Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp organized the benefit concert for struggling American farmers. Performers at that concert included a broad range of performers, including Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Hoyt Axton, Don Henley, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Billy Joel, Waylon Jennings, John Denver, Loretta Lynn, Joni Mitchell, Charley Pride, Sammy Hagar, George Jones, and Lou Reed.

    Reportedly, the idea for Farm Aid began when Bob Dylan played at Live Aid earlier in the year in July and suggested some of the money from that concert should go to American farmers. While some — including Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof — were upset that Dylan exploited the stage of a worldwide televised concert in support of African famine relief to focus on Americans, other artists used the comment as inspiration for the Farm Aid concert. And Farm Aid benefit concerts continue to this day.

    That September 22 in 1985, the performers did not know that the work would continue for decades. But they joyously sang and played to try to give something back. Below is one of the performances that day in Illinois, featuring Willie Nelson, Arlo Guthrie, and Dottie West singing “City of New Orleans.”

    What is your favorite Farm Aid performance? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    RIP Jesse Winchester

    Singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester passed away today at his home in Charlottesville, Virginia. The 69-year-old artist had been suffering from esophageal cancer. Winchester, who had moved to Canada in 1967 in protest of the Vietnam War, had some chart success with his own recordings of his folk-country-blues sound. While he may not be remembered by a large number of the population, he is well-respected and admired by a number of talented artists. And many of them covered his songs. If you are not familiar with his work, check out these videos.

    Here is Winchester with a moving performance of his song “Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding” on season two (2009-2010) of Elvis Costello’s Spectacle show. That’s Neko Case, Sheryl Crow, and Ron Sexsmith on stage with Costello and Winchester. You can see near the end around the 3:12 mark where Case has tears in her eyes from Winchester’s touching song. Wow.

    Here is a young Winchester in 1977, singing with Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris.

    Finally, here is one of my favorite covers of a Jesse Winchester song. In this video, Buddy Miller sings Winchester’s “A Showman’s Life,” which appeared on Miller’s 2002 album Midnight and Lonesome. Winchester’s “A Showman’s Life” has been covered in excellent versions by the likes of George Strait and Gary Allan. But check out Miller’s version.

    Thanks for the music Mr. Winchester. RIP.

    What is your favorite Jesse Winchester song? Leave your two cents in the comments

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