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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    Lucinda Williams Explores “Just the Working Life”

    One of my favorite CDs of the last few years is the double album Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (2014) by Lucinda Williams. The album revealed that Williams is still at her peak eleven studio albums into a long career and still producing her best work. So, we are excited that Williams will soon release a new album, which includes a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Factory” as well as a Woody Guthrie song.

    Williams’s new album, entitled The Ghosts of Highway 20, focuses on characters who live along or travel on I-20, the highway that runs across the northern part of Williams’s home state of Louisiana. The album features fourteen songs, including twelve originals.

    The decision to include Springsteen’s “Factory” is relevant to the theme of the album. Springsteen wrote the song for his father, and the song first appeared on Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town in 1978. But nearly four decades later, even as more and more factory workers have lost jobs due to automation and other reasons, the struggles of working people to get by still resonates.

    Below, Williams performs “Factory” at one of Springsteen’s own stomping grounds, the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Check out this performance from 2014.

    In addition to the Springsteen cover, the album includes “House of Earth,” a song where Williams put music to lyrics written by Woody Guthrie. The haunting song is in the voice of a prostitute: “So come to my house of earth and learn its worth / A few green folded bills to learn of birth.”

    In a way, Guthrie’s song is a companion to Springsteen’s “Factory.” One might imagine Springsteen’s factory worker on the other end of the conversation, as the woman recounts her own sad working life and makes promises that she may or may not fulfill: “I’ll furnish red hot kisses and the hole/ That wakes up sleeping sickness in your soul.” Below is a version of “House of Earth” that Williams performed at the Kennedy Center in honor of Guthrie’s 100th birthday.

    Like Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, the new album is produced by Williams, Tom Overby, and pedal-steel player Greg Leisz. One of my favorite jazz guitarists, Bill Frisell, also makes a guest appearance on the album. Ghosts of Highway 20 hits stores on February 5, 2016.

    What is your favorite Lucinda Williams album? 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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    Lucinda Williams: “Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone” (Short Review)

    Critics and fans love the new double-CD from Lucinda Williams, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (2014). I do too.

    The new album is Williams’s first release on her own label, Highway 20 Records, following her departure from Lost Highway Records, which released her albums from 2001 through 2011. Perhaps the move inspired some of her best work, or maybe her long career as a professional just means she continues to get better.

    The Independent calls Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone a “magnificent, career-defining piece of work.” AllMusic claims “this music is taut and soulful, but also a document of one woman baring her spirit and mind to the world.” Blurt Magazine gives the album five stars. Meanwhile, the reviewers debate whether the new album is her best since Essence (2001), her best since Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998), or simply her best ever.

    Having seen Car Wheels on a Gravel Road as one of the best alt-country albums of all time for more than a decade and a half, I cannot yet proclaim Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone as better. But I can say that the new album reminds me of the joy I felt upon hearing the 1998 album. And similarly, the new album is on constant repeat play in my home (although now the repeated playing comes through an iPod instead of through a CD player).

    The topics of the songs include broader social issues, like poverty on “East Side of Town,” while other songs are personal, such as “Compassion,” which incorporates the words of a poem written by Williams’s father, Miller Williams. I cannot say which song is my favorite, but one of the standouts is the confessional “When I Look at This World,” below performed live in Kaufleuten, Zürich in August 2013. “And it’s a different story/ Each time I look at the world.”

    The album includes a range of styles, from rock to blues to country shuffle, etc. But it all fits together seamlessly. Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone is one of those rare albums in this digital age that takes you back to a time where you had to listen to the album all the way through with every track in order. Whether or not the new album is the greatest Lucinda Williams album of all time doesn’t matter. It’s one of the greatest of this time.

    What is your favorite track on Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    New Music: “East Side of Town” from Lucinda Williams

    A new album from singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams is always a cause for celebration, and she will be releasing the double album Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone on September 30. Below is “East Side of Town” from the new album.

    The song sounds great, with lyrics influenced by the recent problems with the economy: “You wanna see what it means to be down / Then why don’t you come over to the east side of town?” Check it out.

    The album features a range of talented musicians, including guitarist Bill Frisell. A No Depression review calls the upcoming album the best one from Williams in more than a decade, while the Village Voice calls it “the best work of Lucinda Williams’s career.” After hearing “East Side of Town,” I can see where they might be right about the album. I can’t wait.

    What is your favorite Lucinda Williams album? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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