Tag Archives: Emmylou Harris

Missing Parsons: Misadventures in Rock ‘N’ Roll America

Highways, deserts, dim lit diners, truck stops, facial hair and the call of rock and roll. Recently on In The Pines, I had the pleasure of discussing all these things with UK writer Chris Price. He’s the co-author of ‘Live Fast, Die Young: Misadventures in Rock ‘N’ Roll America‘, a fantastic book that is a little bit about the USA’s rich musical history, a little bit about a bromance and a whole lot about the lengths one Gram Parsons fan would go to in celebration of his hero’s sixtieth birthday.

After weeks of distractions, I’ve finally put the interview up online, so stream away…

Missing Parsons by emma_swift

And here is a list of the tracks played between chatter:

What’s In A Name? Missing Parsons
Return of The Grievous Angel Gram Parsons
How Much I’ve Lied Gram Parsons
A Song For You Gram Parsons
Dark End Of The Street The Flying Burrito Bros
I Just Can’t Take It Anymore The Lemonheads

If you’ve listened all the way through, you will have heard Chris talking about the brilliance of the Glen Campbell classic ‘Wichita Lineman’ towards the end of the interview. Unfortunately I didn’t get around to playing that track on the show. But if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, here it is courtesy of youtube:

There’s something sublime about a man in a brown suit and yellow skivvy combo gently crooning the greatest pop lyric of all time, don’t you think?

‘And I need you more than want you/ And I want you for all time’

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Emmylou Harris at the State Theatre, January 9 & 10

If you’ve ever wondered what a breaking heart sounds like, wonder no more. It is strong and sweet, full of sorrow and grace. It is fragile and full of breath, warm and tender, sincere and soaring and as you might imagine, it literally breaks. As it moves steadily, mournfully towards a chord change it cracks on high, becoming so full of air it is almost silent. It is the voice of Emmylou Harris: country music legend, silver siren and purveyor of the saddest of sad songs.

If you were lucky enough to see her at the State Theatre as part of the Sydney Festival last week, you will know that when I write “saddest of sad songs” I mean no embellishment. From her early days singing alongside Gram Parsons, to her biggest solo hit ‘Boulder to Birmingham’ and beyond, more than any other female country artist, Emmylou Harris has trademarked pain. It lingers large in every song, in every line, in every note and over two nights (yes, I went to both shows) she and her Red Dirt Boys showed us that pain can also be beautiful, uplifting and life-affirming.

Playing classic covers, a hint of gospel, a dash of bluegrass and some heart-stopping a cappella, Emmylou and the band showed us why country music (despite its many detractors) is so adored by those who to choose to embrace it. Crowd favourites like ‘Pancho & Lefty’ and ‘Making Believe’ were nestled comfortably alongside her more recent songs like ‘Bang the Drum’ and ‘Michelangelo’. There were moments of humour, such as when Emmylou noted the beauty of the State Theatre and observed that “if we had a theatre like this in the States, we’d have knocked it down by now and built a mini-mall.” There were moments of embarrassment, such as when Emmylou lost track of herself and the band during Red Dirt Girl and had to back track a verse or so. And there were moments of precious sadness so exquisite I am sure I was not the only person in the room wiping away tears. In particular, her tribute to the recently deceased Kate McGarrigle, ‘Darling Kate’ and her cover of Steve Earle’s post-rehab lament ‘Goodbye’ were especially moving.

As an indie geek who made the conversion to country more than a decade ago (via Ryan Adams Heartbreaker) it is no news to me that Emmylou Harris is great. But if I have learned anything in recent years, especially as a radio broadcaster, it’s that many remain resistant to the genre’s achy, breaky charms. I have spent countless hours trying to convert fans of Bon Iver’s For Emma Forever Ago, Beach House’s Teen Dream and Tallest Man On Earth’s The Wild Hunt to country bands traversing similar themes of heartache and desire, albeit with a little more twang. Some people get it. Others get a cold chill at the mere mention of a banjo. As such, I understand all my crushing on Emmylou might be lost on FBi listeners, who are probably more inclined to be lining up for any number of more hip Sydney Festival shows over the next few weeks than reliving moments of Emmylou Harris magic in their mind.

However, if you have a feeling that this country music thing might not be so bad, get your hands on an Emmylou Harris record. Play it over and over again, let it tend to all your heartaches and keep your fingers crossed she comes back to Sydney soon. You won’t regret it.

n.b. This review was first published on FBi radio’s FLOG. You can check it out again here, same words different format.

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Mid-week Mixtape: Walker Takes Five

Some Fun Facts About Sydney musician/writer/party boy Jason Walker

*His album Ceiling Sun Letters is excellent
*He’s the walking wiki of all things country music
*If you are at a party with him and there’s a guitar around, you can request almost any song and there’s a 99.9% chance he knows how to play it
*If you risk going for a beer with him at the Townie until closing time, there’s a 99.9% chance he will drink you under the table
*He was a recurring extra in the popular Australian soap E Street
*He put together this week’s Mid-week Mixtape
*And (here’s the plug) he’s joining Perry Keyes, Bek-Jean Stewart and a whole bunch of other talented musicians from the Laughing Outlaw Records roster on stage tomorrow night at Notes for a festive extravaganza

Judee Sill – Jesus Was A Crossmaker

It’s possible to write reams about the Californian music scene of the early 1970s – a time when songwriters openly experimented with spirituality, psychedelic drugs and blending a number of musical ideas. In Judee’s case, she embraced Christian mysticism, folk and country, a healthy dose of romantic longing and a passion for the music of Bach. This song is an ode to the dashing troubadour JD Souther, who stole then trampled Sill’s heart. A beautiful and haunting ballad for a heartbreaker.

Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris and the Fallen Angels – Return Of The Grievous Angel

Sort of an obvious choice, this. It’s been described as an icon of ‘new’ country music or alt.country or whatever you want to call it. Not because it was written for any one audience, I would imagine. It’s better to imagine that it unifies the intricacy of the personal singer/songwriter ethos with a traditional country melodic structure. It’s a pretty stunning song lyrically too, though the lyrics were written by a Boston poet named Tom Brown. Gram wrote the tune and with the help of Emmylou Harris (and Elvis Presley’s band), he navigates the ironic depths the lyrics suggest without being too heavy on the melancholy. Ultimately, it’s just a cool country song.

The Jayhawks – Waitin’ For the Sun

I first stumbled across this Minneapolis group in 1989 while leafing through the reviews in Rolling Stone. They said The Jayhawks were the band for anyone who loved Neil Young and Crazy Horse and the Flying Burrito Brothers. I nipped out and bought it and loved it. By the time the album that this song came out on (Hollywood Town Hall, 1991) was released, the Jayhawks had become my favourite band. Fun fact: the guy who made this video later directed a video for a band that I used to be in, Golden Rough. I thoroughly recommend their later albums, Tomorrow The Green Grass, Rainy Day Music and Sound of Lies.

Wilco – Impossible Germany

This group has, despite criticism from die-hard fans who think they should have stuck to the style of their first two albums, musically transcended any notion of shitty genre restrictions. They rock. And no, they’re not the “American Radiohead” either.

The Band – King Harvest (Has Surely Come)

King Harvest is essential North American music – rural, funky and soulful. I can’t think of many bands from this era or the current crop who have three amazing lead singers with such knowledge of blues, country, rock and pop styles. Their songs are genius and the musicality of Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson is astonishing.

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