Friday, May 02, 2003

The Divine Emmylou Harris

I was cleaning my office this morning, with my mp3 collection playing at random on my computer in the background. The computer started playing Emmylou Harris' version of the old country-gospel standard, "Satan's Jewel Crown", and I had to just sit down and listen again.

I could, by no means, be called a "fan" of what we know as "Country" music, at least of the variety you hear on country radio stations. Travis Tritt, Shania, The Dixie Chicks (even before their repulsive conduct) etc., leave me cold. Most country music seems to me sappy, canned, and ersatz. It has all the authenticity of a Hostess Fruit Pie.

However, I very much like traditional Bluegrass and country-gospel music. It is music that actually has some depth and history: it is a music from a real tradition of real people. And like all true folk music, it contains the expressions of a people's collective soul.

Perhaps the best exponent of that folk-gospel music today is Emmylou Harris. Whatever she has produced in the country genre, I assure you, is far outclassed by her work in folk and gospel music. When she does folk music, she is wonderful. When she sings gospel, she is sublime. Emmylou has a voice of haunting purity, and lets the beauty of the music come through unencumbered.

Unfortunately, her folk and gospel offerings don't have as high a profile as her standard country output, which is too bad. And some of her best gospel performances are scattered in collaborative collections or commercially unreleased. But anyone interested in hearing her sublime voice performing this wonderful music could start here, with Angel Band. It's one classic after another, performed with an elegant simplicity.