Review - Emmy Lou Harris, The Low Anthem
Silver and Gold
Emmylou Harris, the Low Anthem
The Egg, Nov. 14
Country-rock was largely the brainchild of the late ex-Byrd Gram Parsons, and a major part of his legacy is his discovery and mentoring of the remarkable Emmylou Harris. “She wasn’t nothin’ but a folksinger,” he recalled in an interview, but under a tutelage that lasted only two years before his death of a drug overdose in 1973, Harris flowered into one of the finest country vocalists of her generation. Now 63, the silvered-haired chanteuse and guitarist showed a sellout audience at the Egg Sunday night that she is still flat-out great.
Backed by a lean band consisting of Phil Madiera on keyboards, accordion, and acoustic guitar, Rickie Simpkins on fiddle and mandolin, Chris Donahue on electric and standup basses, and Brian Owings on percussion, Harris performed a set of originals and covers selected to showcase her velvety voice. In many songs, no instrumental breaks were featured—or really needed. Her singing alone, especially as it surged up to the octave note time and again in the choruses, was soul-satisfying.
Wearing a purple, knee-length dress and gray cowboy boots, Harris
shouldered her big Gibson J-200 acoustic and led off with “Here I Am.”
From the first note it was clear that her vocals were almost entirely
undiminished—her pitch has remained accurate, and that deep feeling of
longing still suffuses her work. Here and there a high note showed a
trace of strain, but even that melted away as her voice warmed up over
the first few tunes.
Standouts included “Tall Man,” a commemoration of the love between June Carter and Johnny Cash (Cash had to endure a month of agony detoxifying from drugs at Maybelle Carter’s home before June would marry him); “Bang the Drum Slowly,” a heartfelt tribute to Harris’ father, a Marine and Korean War POW, co-written with Guy Clark; and Tracy Chapman’s spiritual exhortation, “All That You Have Is Your Soul.” Also memorable was her “Red Dirt Girl,” a lament for an ill-fated friend from her native Alabama.
Late in the show, Harris, Madiera and Simpkins, accompanied only by Donahue’s bowed bass, sang a soaring rendition of the folk song “Bright Morning Start Is Rising.” True to country music tradition, Harris closed with a sacred song, Bill Monroe’s “Get Up, John.”
The opening act, eccentric acoustic quartet the Low Anthem, unveiled new hope for insomniacs the world over. Although they created some cool harmonies with an unusual assortment of instruments including pump organ, jaw harp, clarinet, and euphonium, as well as guitar, fiddle, bass, and mandolin, most of their songs were slow and meditative to the point of being soporific. Adding some uptempo material would be a huge help.
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