Category Archives: Emmylou Harris

Today’s Top 5: Rock & Roll Never Forgets

Since the news broke last night of his death, there have likely been a million blog posts written about Chuck Berry. Here’s one more:

The above single, which I purchased as a young teen during the late 1970s, was my first Chuck Berry purchase. A few years later, like many other music fans, I picked up The Great Twenty-Eight, a double-LP set that collected his classic songs. The last Chuck Berry purchase was likely in 1987, when I picked up the soundtrack to the Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll film, which spotlighted two all-star concerts celebrating his 60th birthday. In between, and before and since, I’ve enjoyed his music in its original form as well as via covers and borrowed (aka stolen) tunes –

Like every other fan of rock music, in other words.

To describe his importance to the genre is just about impossible. However, he was not – as too many of the obits I’ve seen are headlined, the “father of rock ’n’ roll.” That’s a simplistic, and just plain wrong, summary of rock history. His first single, “Maybellene,” was released in 1955, a year after Elvis Presley’s seminal “That’s Alright, Mama” – and, as Elvis told Jet magazine in 1957, “rock ‘n’ roll was here a long time before I came along.” (This Wikipedia entry does a solid job of showing just how long.) That said, he was instrumental to its success – as its first poet laureate and guitar great. As the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame puts it in their bio of him, “If Elvis Presley cracked open the door for rock & roll, Chuck Berry kicked it wide open—and did his signature duck walk over it for good measure.”

Here he is with, perhaps, his most famous pick-up band: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concert in 1996.

And here he is on The Mike Douglas Show in 1972. Following the interview, he performs with John Lennon, who was co-hosting the weekday talk show’s that week.

Here’s Chuck with Keith Richards and an all-star band (via the 1987 Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll movie):

And now, for today’s top 5, Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Forgets:

1) Bob Seger – “Carol” (1971).

2) Emmylou Harris & the Hot Band – “C’est La Vie,” 1977.

3) George Thorogood & the Delaware Destroyers – “No Particular Place to Go,” 1979.

4) Paul McCartney – “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.” From Later With Jools Holland in 1999 (with his Run Devil Run band, including Dave Gilmour and Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice).

5) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “You Can Never Tell” (2013).

And, finally, one of the greatest non-Chuck Berry songs to both channel him and explain his influence (“all of Chuck’s children are out there playing his licks”):

Bob Seger – “Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Forgets”

Today’s Top 5: Curated Classics

Life unfurls like a flag on a windy day. Though it may seem that the cloth never ripples the same way twice, over time certain patterns can be discerned. For example, just like last year about this time, one of my first self-appointed chores of 2017 consisted of digging through the dusty virtual bins of Amazon in search of the perfect CDs to send my niece for her birthday. “Perfect” takes on a double meaning in this context – perfect for her and perfect, overall.

As last year, I used Amazon’s free gift tags to include short notes about each album.

dusty_memphis1) Dusty Springfield – “I Can’t Make It Alone” (from Dusty in Memphis, 1969). I wrote: “Although it didn’t sell well in 1969, this album is now considered a classic. It blends pop and soul in a way that no one had before; and Dusty’s vocals are wondrous.” I’d add: Make that a stone-cold classic; and luscious in addition to wondrous. Rolling Stone ranked it No. 89 on its 2012 list of the Top 500 Albums of All Time; I rank it higher – possibly Top 10. It smolders, yearns and burns, and sounds as fresh to my ears now as it did when I first heard it in the early 1980s.

emmylou_pieces2) Emmylou Harris – “For No One” (from Pieces of the Sky, 1975). I wrote: “Although she’s rarely topped the charts, Emmylou is an integral artist within the modern history of country music. This, her second try at a debut, explains why.” I’d add: Emmylou embraced and made her own the expansive “Cosmic American Music” vision of Gram Parsons, her musical mentor, who passed away in September 1973, on this classic from 1975. In essence, she helped forge the foundation that generations of female country and folk performers, including Taylor Swift and First Aid Kit, have built upon since.

harriet3) Harriet – “Broken for You” (from her eponymous debut, 2016). I wrote: “I discovered this gem on Christmas. Although the songs conjure the Carpenters and pop music of the 1970s, Harriet is a relatively new 20-something singer from London. It should make you smile.” I’d add: This set certainly makes me smile, at least. If I’d been aware of it when I created my Albums of the Year list in early December, I would have ranked it No. 3. It’s everything that’s good about pop music.

rumer_soms4) Rumer – “Aretha.” (from Seasons of My Soul, 2010). I wrote: “This is an atmospheric song cycle that’s teeming with soulful, knowing lyrics & melodies that wrap themselves around the heart. Among its themes: love, longing, loss & acceptance. It’s magic.” I’d add: I borrowed part of that from my first blog post on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch, since moved here; I’ve also written about it here and here. I rank it among my Top Albums of All Time, which I plan to share at some point later in the year.

rumer_vinyl5) Rumer – “This Girl’s in Love With You” (from This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook, 2016). I wrote: “Burt Bacharach is a legendary songwriter who, with collaborators such as Hal David, crafted some of the world’s greatest songs. This set from Rumer was my Album of the Year for 2016.” For more, see my Album(s) of the Year, 2016 and Today’s Top 5: The Promise of Tomorrow posts. (By the way, that’s Bacharach singing at the start.)

 

Of Concerts Past: Emmylou Harris at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pa., 11/4/1995

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The lights dimmed, curtains parted and a spellbinding “My Songbird” wafted through billowy, bluish clouds as if an ethereal creature in flight. Strumming an acoustic guitar, Emmylou Harris stood center stage at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pa., a near-silhouette, surrounded by what seemed to be three shadows – Daniel Lanois on guitar, Darryl Johnson on bass and Brady Blade on drums.

First, though a little context: On September 26th, Emmylou released the Lanois-produced Wrecking Ball, an atmospheric album that departed from the country-folk terrain she’d mined for the previous quarter century. That’s a bit of an over-simplification, I know, but prior to Wrecking Ball she mixed and matched songs and genres within the construct of the traditional country-folk sound. At a show we saw in 1991, for instance, she was joined on stage by Chet Atkins, performed a bluegrass breakdown, and also sang Steve Earle’s “Guitar Town” and Dion’s “Abraham, Martin & John.” Wrecking Ball, however, and the tour(s) that followed swapped the country overtones for a thick and rich gumbo that was equal parts noir, impressionistic and heartfelt.

Here’s “Deeper Well” from a few weeks later:

And “Where Will I Be” –

Two decades on and my memories of the show are not so good, unfortunately. “Prayer in Open D,” my favorite song of hers, came early and was stunning.

And her take on Steve Earle’s “Goodbye” was even more masterful on stage than on album.

At the show’s end, Diane and I both walking out of the theatre open-jawed, blown away by what we’d witnessed.

One additional, non-music memory: Although we had excellent seats, as the picture of my ticket stub shows, we were not front row, but fourth. (It goes to the wacky way the Keswick names its rows.) In the row before us: a guy cradling a green knapsack in his lap that had two super-large microphones sticking out from either side. The result: a bootleg of the show is out there, somewhere, making the rounds…

The setlist: My Songbird; Prayer in Open D; Waterfall; Where Will I Be; Orphan Girl; Wrecking Ball; Pancho & Lefty; Goin’ Back to Harlan; Deeper Well; Calling My Children Home; Green Pastures; One of These Days; Every Grain of Sand; Sweet Old World; Blackhawk; Big Chief/Indian Red; Goodbye; Making Believe; The Maker; All My Tears; How Far Am I From Canaan; You Don’t Miss Your Water