It pains me to have to say this, but Emmylou may no longer be the singer she was. Last night me and WotN were off to the Bridgewater Hall to see her, grand old lady of the music, and I'm not sorry we went. But she wasn't the Emmylou of old. This time it wasn't a case, like two years ago, of her being lost in the Mark Knopfler band. She was centre stage and the main deal for the better part of two hours. Including encores, she sang 23 songs. But the voice no longer has that ease, that effortless purity, the continuity across a long note sustained, that it once had. There's more of a hard edge to it, and sometimes the impression is of an effort made to hold the note. Where before the voice flowed through the combination of instruments supporting it, always clear within and above them, transcendent, now Emmylou occasionally competes to be heard amongst them.
I would love to be wrong about this. Perhaps her throat is under strain during the tour. Perhaps the acoustics last night weren't all they should have been. But I fear I'm not. Emmylou told us that she first visited Manchester in 1976. In connection with an anecdote about the responsibilities of parents, she mentioned that her mother still worries about her when she goes out, although she is now 61. Emmylou Harris is 61! And maybe that's the whole explanation.
I was there in 1976 as well, and have seen her at least eight times that I can remember. Possibly it's more than that. And I'll be there next time (for she assured the audience at the Bridgewater that she meant to keep on keepin' on). It was a splendid evening, the reduced voice notwithstanding. Pretty well 50/50, she sang a combination of the old stuff and the new - pre- and post-Daniel Lanois, as I like to think of it - including some songs from her new album, All I Intended To Be. (This will be reviewed here in due course.) To listen to Emmylou last night was to be impressed by the length of her career and the quality of her output. For me she has no equal.
The evening reminded me of loose ends to be tied up in this series and of one promise as yet unfulfilled.