The story so far. (I feel able at this point to venture a periodization of sorts.) If we discount Emmylou's first album, Gliding Bird, as juvenilia, it can be said that she started with a great sequence of seven albums - from Pieces of the Sky to Evangeline - all either absolutely top notch or not far off that. Then, from Cimarron to Angel Band, there's a run of half a dozen still good but, in my own view, mostly weaker albums, with The Ballad of Sally Rose the standout - the only one of these six which can hold its own in that earlier company. Was Emmylou Harris on the way down? With the two albums to be reviewed in this post we get the answer: after a slight dip during her middle period, she comes back out on to the uplands. Bluebird and Brand New Dance initiate Emmylou's 'third period'. She's back in her very best form.
1989 - Bluebird
The strengths of this album, and its finest tracks, are heard in a number of heart-aching ballads, delivered in that pure voice of a sorrow that's been lived through, endured. Even in the one upbeat number here - Heartbreak Hill - the lyric works against the vibrancy of the tune. Overall, this is definitely a crying-in-your-beer album. Top track: A River For Him. Runner-up: Lonely Street. Bubbling-unders: You've Been On My Mind; Heartbreak Hill; If You Were A Bluebird.
1990 - Brand New Dance
If you haven't ever listened to this album, you need to, if for no other reason than to hear its most outstanding track, Rollin' And Ramblin' (The Death of Hank Williams). It is a sublime example of the genre. Here's the chorus:
Rollin' and ramblin'I also love these two lines (with 'routes' pronounced to rhyme with 'doubts'):
Women loved him half to death
He sang with whiskey on his breath
His heart broke like a child's
Rollin' and ramblin'
The sun has set out on the trail
The hobo's drifted up the rail
He's taken his last ride
So they sent him on a night train SouthThe musicians on Rollin' and Ramblin' include Jo-El Sonnier on French accordion and Stuart Duncan on fiddle, giving the rendition a Cajun feel. It's just stupendous. Also, don't miss the strains of Iris DeMent doing harmony vocals on Wheels of Love. Top track: Rollin' And Ramblin' (The Death of Hank Williams). Runner-up: Better Off Without You. Bubbling-unders: Wheels Of Love; Never Be Anyone Else But You.
Through the cities and the rural routes
[The first six instalments are here, here, here, and - on the old normblog site - here (November 19), here (November 16) and here (November 2). Also relevant, though I omitted to make it part of the series, is this.]