Peter Cooper On Music: Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris find harmony on ‘Old Yellow Moon’
The Tennesean - 2/24/2013 - online article
photos by David McClister
How do you sing in harmony?
Let’s go to an authority.
Let’s ask the most prominent harmony vocalist of our time, one whose voice has blended elegantly with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, Keith Whitley, George Jones, Solomon Burke, Elvis Costello, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Roy Orbison, Mark Knopfler, Gram Parsons, Little Feat, Dan Fogelberg and three out of five ironically mustached East Nashville hipster baristas.
Let’s ask Emmylou Harris.
“I really don’t know,” says the Country Music Hall of Famer, whose latest project comes out on Tuesday: “Old Yellow Moon” is an enchanting, harmony-laden duo album with old friend Rodney Crowell.
Come now, Ms. Harris. That’s like a member of Congress not knowing how to create gridlock, or a Goo Goo Cluster not knowing how to be delicious, or Taylor Swift not knowing how to make the “Oh, my God, I’m totally shocked!” face.
“Really,” Harris swears. “I’ve never studied intervals or parts. Whatever I’ve done came from total ignorance and fearlessness. For me, it’s whatever isn’t the melody.”
Harris has been practicing vocal ignorance and fearlessness with Crowell for nearly four decades. They met in 1974, shortly after Harris heard a Crowell demo tape that included “Bluebird Wine,” which became the lead-off song on Harris’ first major label solo album, “Pieces of the Sky.” Crowell joined Harris’ Hot Band in 1975.
“Even before the Hot Band was formed, Rodney and I would sit on the floor in the house at Lania Lane (location of Coldwater Canyon estate where “Pieces of the Sky,” “Elite Hotel” and other works were produced by Harris’ then-husband, Brian Ahern). We’d sing ‘Sweet Dreams’ and lots of old country songs, and that was a big part of my education.”
Harris and Crowell bonded over The Louvin Brothers, the Everly Brothers, the harmonies of Buck Owens and Don Rich and other classic pairings. Harris didn’t “study” the parts so much as she internalized them, and she and Crowell quickly ascertained that they created a third voice when singing together that was equally as compelling as their solo voices.
“We found our voice so many years ago,” Crowell says. “There’s a certain tone we can get together. She’s one of music’s great voices, and I’m a pretty good singer, too. You get us together, in the right key with the right melody, and we can make it sizzle. There’s that extra bit of tonality.”
Crowell says that with wonder, not braggadocio. Harmony singing is a mystery dance, and he feels lucky to have partnered with Harris. The sound they make together is unlike the sound any other duo makes.
That’s always the case with harmonies, but the trouble is that sometimes a blend — even a blend of masterful lead singers — isn’t pleasing to the ear. Please refer to Frank Sinatra’s hit-and-miss duets albums for more information. Or don’t, and just know that harmony singing is much more about chemistry than precision.
“Immediately with Rodney, that chemistry and energy was there,” Harris says. “From the beginning, it was obvious that we’d be friends and cohorts and collaborators.”
A bigger blessing
Harris and Crowell’s chemistry class is a joy to attend.
With Ahern helming the production, “Old Yellow Moon” provides resplendent versions of four Crowell songs (including a new take on “Bluebird Wine), three songs from former Hot Band member Hank DeVito and compelling music penned by Roger Miller, Patti Scialfa, Allen Reynolds and Matraca Berg.
Crowell describes the sessions as “an honor and a privilege,” but what about the shadows cast by expectation? Folks have waited decades for a Harris/Crowell duo album.
“I didn’t hear those expectations, or feel them or see them,” Crowell says. “I love Emmy and she loves me, and Brian’s an old friend and a key ingredient to how we got started. In some ways, we were sillier when we were younger, and we took things like this for granted. This process, this day’s work, was a bigger blessing than we understood it to be when we were in our 20s.”
Right, but how’d you do it? How’s it done?
“You open your mouth and trust the song and the singer and go for it,” Harris says. “You don’t think about it.”
Which is, apparently, how you sing in harmony. You lose yourself in a moment.
“Right,” assures Crowell. “If you can get in there and do it unconsciously, chances of achieving something somewhat timeless go up exponentially.”
If all this is true — if fearless, unconscious ignorance is the key to singing in harmony — then some of us may have a new career path. Maybe you figured it was too hard, like finding a needle in a haystack, or a horse that knows arithmetic, or a dog that tells your fortune.
Turns out it’s uncomplicated. Who knew?
“I really don’t know,” says Emmylou Harris. But, really, she does.
Reach Peter Cooper at 615-259-8220 or email@example.com.
Recent Interviews and online features
BBC Radio 4’s Loose - click here
BBC Breakfast - click here
BBC Radio 2’s Simon Mayo Drivetime - click here
BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris - click here
NPR’s Heavy Rotation - click here
Story Behind "Old Yellow Moon" - click here
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
An incredibly special evening to benefit Bonaparte’s Retreat and Crossroads Campus Charities. Join us for an intimate concert and culinary experience with Emmylou Harris.
12 Time Grammy-award winner and Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Emmylou Harris will perform an intimate concert on the evening of Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at The Cannery Restaurant. Limited seating for this unique concert and culinary experience by Executive Chef Nick Weber.
Auction pieces include: Lunch with New York Times Bestseller “Unbroken” Louis Zamperini, Autographed Gibson Guitar, Ride in a Historic P51 Plane, Private Captained Sailboat Excursion, one-night Angels Suite for 2013 Season with Host Dodger Great Tommy Davis, Four-Day Stay at Sundance, Utah Cabin, Personal Dinner with Emmylou Harris in Nashville (hotel and air included).
Proceeds to benefit Emmylou's charity organization, Bonaparte's Retreat, which was created for the purpose of rescuing dogs who have run out of time at animal control. The mission is to prevent these wonderful animals from being euthanized and to place them in permanent, loving homes. Additionally, Emmylou has joined forces with animal welfare charity Crossroads Campus to pair up abandoned pets with disadvantaged youths and adults.
Musicians' Best Friends
Colbie Caillat, Emmylou Harris and Miranda Lambert are among artists with canine friends keeping them company on and off the road. Click here for photos.
Special Awards, Industry Awards, MBI Honorees and Songwriter of the Year Will Be Feted at 6th Annual ACM Honors Event Held on September 24, 2012 in Nashville
ENCINO, CA (March 21, 2012) – Today the Academy of Country Music is announcing the winners of awards that will not be televised during the live telecast of the 47th ANNUAL ACADEMY OF COUNTRY MUSIC AWARDS, telecast LIVE from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday, April 1, 2012 at 8:00 PM live ET/delayed PT on the CBS Television Network, due to time constraints. Special Awards, Industry Awards, MBI (Musician, Bandleader, Instrumentalist) and Songwriter of the Year honorees will be feted at the 6th Annual ACM Honors event on September 24, 2012 in Nashville.
The Academy of Country Music Special Awards are voted on by the ACM Board of Directors and are awarded during years where the Board of Directors feels there are clear and deserving candidates. Industry Awards are voted on by professional members of the Academy. The MBI ballot is voted on by professional members of the Academy classified in the Artist-Entertainer/Musician-Bandleader-Instrumentalist category, and the Producer-Engineer-Studio Manager sub-category (contained within the Affiliated category). The Songwriter of the Year ballot is voted on by professional members of the Academy in the following categories; Artist-Entertainer/Musician-Bandleader-Instrumentalist, Composer, Music Publisher/PRO, Record Company, and the Producer/Engineer/Studio Manager subcategory (contained within the Affiliated category).
Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award
Emmylou Harris, Billy Sherrill, Ricky Skaggs and Dwight Yoakam have been chosen to receive the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award honoring individuals who are pioneers in the country music genre.
Emmylou Harris brought a graceful delivery, beautiful harmonies and a wealth of exceptional material to her career in country music. Harris was discovered at a nightclub in Washington D.C., then provided her signature vocals to Gram Parsons' seminal recordings. On her own, she arrived on the country charts in 1975. Over the next decade, she racked up 21 Top 10 singles, including five No. 1 hits. The Trio album with talented friends Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt earned the 1987 ACM Award for Album of the Year. Harris was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
Peter Cooper On Music: Emmylou Harris celebrates 20 years with Opry
Posted on January 19, 2012 by Peter Cooper - The Tennessean.com
A 99-year-old building, where worries about hazards were such that sitting in or underneath the balcony was disallowed.
"I've played a lot of different places," said Emmylou Harris. "This is the best."
A rubbly relic, where spotlights revealed asthma-enhancing debris.
"Is this a great place to sort of feel the hillbilly dust?" asked Harris. Sure. See it, feel it, and good luck getting it out of your hair.
But thank goodness for Pollyanna.
Twenty-one years ago, Harris fronted a remarkable acoustic band she called The Nash Ramblers at a no-longer-remarkable, partially condemned building, where they made a live album.
Yes, the building was called the Ryman Auditorium. But, no, it wasn't historically cool. It was just historical.
It was the former longtime home of the Grand Ole Opry. Perhaps your grandma used to be Miss America. That was a long, long time ago.
Anyway, back to the "thank goodness for Pollyanna" part. The resulting album, At the Ryman, pointed attention to a building that hadn't hosted a public performance since 1974, when the Opry left for the modern amenities (Air conditioning! Dressing rooms!) of the Grand Ole Opry House out by Briley Parkway. The album came out in January of 1992, the same month Harris became the 70th official member of the Opry.
"That album was the tipping point for getting the Ryman refurbished and making it a proud venue again," said Richard Bennett, who co- produced (with Allen Reynolds) At the Ryman. "It brought the name 'Ryman' back to the rest of America."
At the time, much of the rest of America would have been skittish about visiting the Ryman and its Lower Broadway neighbors after dark.
"Lower Broad was Tootsie's, a few beer joints, the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and a lot of adult bookstores," says Steve Buchanan, Gaylord Entertainment's Grand Ole Opry Group president.
Back in 1991, Buchanan was in charge of marketing the Opry and the Ryman, and he was instrumental in green-lighting Harris' and the Ramblers' performance there. Buchanan's efforts to market the Ryman were emboldened by Gaylord President and CEO Bud Wendell, who was insistent that the Ryman was an essential and irreplaceable building.
"The album came out in January of 1992, and we announced the renovation of the Ryman in March of 1993," Buchanan says. "I think Emmylou was instrumental in multiple ways, and that album served to connect the dots and to introduce the Ryman to a whole new generation of fans."
I was among those fans. And though I'd heard of the Ryman, I thought of it as the place where the Opry used to be, before the show moved out to the suburbs and downtown became a wasteland.
But here was Emmylou Harris, arbiter of country cool, saying this was a place of worth, of importance.
Soon, folks began speaking of it as "The Mother Church of Country Music," and the Ryman became the most elegant of downtown attractions.
The renovation of the Ryman, the building of the Arena Formerly Known as Several Things and Currently Known as Bridgestone, and the Convention Center Currently Known as the One We're Replacing became cornerstones of a new downtown. In conjunction with the street-level musical revival spearheaded by BR-549, Greg Garing, Tim Carroll and others, those buildings gave us a remixed, remastered city, where you'll need either good running shoes, a car or cab fare to get to an adult bookstore from the corner of Fifth and Broadway. And one where it made perfect sense to build new-century jewels like the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
"We were looking at different places to do a live album that would feature songs I hadn't recorded before, and (music executive) Bonnie Garner suggested the Ryman," Harris says. "It was a great chance to perform in a building that was so steeped in history."
By the early 1990s, Harris had already done much to honor that history, and to alter it. She had recorded Louvin Brothers songs at a time when the Louvin catalog was out-of-print, and she had honored Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn and others with heartfelt covers. She'd also shone a mainstream light on Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Tony Brown, Barry Tashian, Steve Fishell and many others who are now Nashville mainstays. During her early solo career, she was based in California, but she'd moved to Nashville in 1982, and a decade later she was ready to commit to regular Opry appearances.
On Jan. 25, 1992, she joined the Opry.
"I wish I could remember more about it," she says, though she remembers practically nothing. Significant emotion tends to make folks either recall the detailed entirety of an occasion or lump the whole thing into mush. With Harris, it's mush. Beloved mush, but mush nonetheless.
Fortunately, these things are preserved for posterity. The night of her induction, Harris was interviewed backstage by Bill Anderson (they're both Country Music Hall of Famers now).
"Musically and philosophically, I feel like you've been here for years," Anderson said, whereupon Harris credited her musical path to the guidance of Gram Parsons, who helped immerse her in country music in the early 1970s. Then, Anderson asked her about "hillbilly dust."
"It's a way of describing the feeling you get when you walk into the old Ryman building," she explained. "It comes from those many, many nights of all those waltzes and shuffles being played, and all those people having their hearts touched by the music."
These days, the Opry is held at the Ryman during winter months. And the Ryman is a favorite venue of Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Gillian Welch, Coldplay and many others. All that is thanks in no small part to Harris, who championed the Ryman at a time when others scuffled past on their way to the bookstore.
"Meet me at the wrecking ball," she sang on a 1995 album that helped her to a place as the godmother of what we now call "Americana" music. But in 1991, Harris did all she could to save the Ryman from what seemed like an inevitable wrecking ball. And a year later, just before she sang bluegrass classic "Walls of Time" and Loretta Lynn's 1965 hit, "Blue Kentucky Girl," King of Country Music Roy Acuff introduced her as a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
"I feel like I've come home to a family I didn't even know I was a part of," she said upon her induction.
In the ensuing years, she's come to understand that she's an integral part of that family.
Saturday night, she'll be back at the Opry, back on the Ryman stage, for another reunion. The audience will applaud her, and she'll likely reply, "Thank you." Really, she should be saying, "You're welcome."
Reach Peter Cooper at 615-259-8220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If You Go
What: Celebration of Emmylou Harris' 20th anniversary as a Grand Ole Opry member, with Harris, Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell, Shawn Colvin and many more.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21
Where: Ryman Auditorum, 116 Fifth Ave. N.
Tickets: $34-$55, www.opry.com or 615-889-3060.
Saturday, November 12th, 2011 - 6:30pm - Cannery Ballroom
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
The Tennessee Telluride
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell will perform at the Cannery Ballroom with proceeds to benefit the Epilepsy Foundation Middle & West Tennessee.
For 30 years the Epilepsy Foundation has served people with epilepsy an array of free programs and services, such as information and referral, educational presentations, individual counseling, monthly support groups, advocacy, summer camp for children with epilepsy, and therapeutic recreation and service coordination for individuals with traumatic brain injury.
EFMWT is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization serving 61 counties through offices located in Nashville, Cookeville, Shelbyville, and Jackson. The mission of the Epilepsy Foundation is to ensure that people with seizures are able to participate in all life experiences; and will prevent, control and cure epilepsy through services, education, advocacy and research.
$45 seated | $125 VIP | $25 SRO | BUY TICKETS
Emmylou Harris Pays Tribute to Gram Parsons on New Album
'It's terrible that Gram died so young, but I'm grateful that our paths crossed'
By PATRICK DOYLE
JUNE 7, 2011 5:35 PM ET
Emmylou Harris was an unknown singer in her early twenties when Gram Parsons saw her perform at a folk club in Washington, D.C. in 1971. "I was knocked out by her singing," he said later. He recruited her the following year to sing on 1973's classic album GP and the subsequent tour, but he died unexpectedly the same year a drug overdose. On "The Road" the kickoff track on her haunting new album Hard Bargain, Harris addresses their relationship, singing, "I took what you left and put it to some use." On the album, Harris also sings about post-Katrina New Orleans, becoming a grandmother ("Goodnight Old World") and the death of her friend Kate McGarrigle ("Darlin' Kate"). On a warm spring afternoon, Harris settled in to a midtown Manhattan restaurant, ordered a salad and reflected her new album, what it's like listening to her Seventies classics and singing with Bob Dylan on 1976's Desire.
You sang about Gram Parsons on [1975's] "Boulder to Birmingham." What made you want to sing about him again? How did you approach writing about him differently this time?
Well, we've got about 30 years between it all. And "Boulder to Birmingham" was written in the throes of deep grief and shock, after losing someone that quickly and unexpectedly. So that was just a way of dealing with it, whereas now, you're looking back from a great distance with a great deal of affection. It's terrible that Gram died so young, but I'm grateful that our paths crossed. Really, it's a thank you to him and kind of a tip of the hat to the universe to say 'I'm still here and I was given all these wonderful things because of that meeting with this person.' It's just a reflection.
You found a way to sing with him so naturally. He doesn't seem like someone who ever practiced to be an amazing singer, but he seemed perfectly natural with you.
He was a very natural singer, Gram. He really understood country music, but he was a child of the Sixties, so he had one foot in the rock world and one foot in the southern country world. But I think as a songwriter he brought his own poetry to the lyrics. He could take a song like "Sin City," which has a very traditional country form, and put apocalyptic lyrics to it. He sort of disguised it. He sort of takes you aback when you actually start listening to his lyrics.
You put out a rarities collection in 2007. What's it like for you when you hear the classic material you recorded in the Seventies, where you mixed your own songs with songs by artists like Hank Williams and the Louvin Brothers?
I'm very happy with it. Sometimes you feel like it's a different person because my voice sounds so different, but it is me. And I pretty much loved every song that I did. And I loved those collections because I was able to take what I call my little orphans – songs that maybe had been on something nobody had heard of. For example, you know that record The Legend of Jesse James I did with Levon Helm and Johnny Cash. I remember I was listening to the songs that I sang on that, "Wish We Were Back in Missouri" and "Heaven Ain't Ready For You Yet," I actually started crying 'cause I hadn't heard it in a long time.
When you write now, do you find yourself reflecting more than writing about that particular moment?
I think you can't help but look back because there's more to look back at than there is to look forward to. It's just the nature. I mean "Lonely Girl" [on Hard Bargain] – I was playing those chords on the guitar and they sounded so nice and then I started thinking, "God, time is just going so fast." All of a sudden, you're talking about the passing of time and reflecting on your life, but also kind of embracing where you are.
Bob Dylan just turned 70. You sang on Desire. What were those sessions like?
Well, it was all a bit of a blur, because I didn't know the songs and I didn't know Dylan. We met, shook hands, and started rolling tape. I'd never heard the songs before. That's the way I remember. I think "Durango" might have been the first one. "One More Cup Of Coffee" was a little bit later.
In the back of my mind, I thought, "Oh, I can fix any of these things because when everybody leaves I can just go with the engineer and I can go back." But of course I tried that and it didn't work. That album was like throwing paint on a canvas. Whatever happened was what it was supposed to be. I guess that's another part of the genius of Dylan — he knew exactly what he was doing. I didn't know what I was; I was a color, an instrument, part of what he had in mind or just the moment. It didn't matter if I had gotten it pitch perfect – it wouldn't have mattered.
Is there any song off Desire that you particularly loved what you did with it?
It was a little hard for me listening to the record at first because I felt that I was out of tune. But I got past that. I love all those songs, I have to say. There's something about that record that has a certain magic. It's a very romantic album. But then there's "Joey," which I love singing. [sings 'Joey, Joey.'] It's sort of a cry, a cry for the depths of despair.
A LifeDigging For Veins Of Gold
By JON PARELES
Published: April 22, 2011
EMMYLOU HARRIS summed up her attitude toward songwriting in one word. "It's terrifying," she said over coffee after a morning radio appearance during last month's South by Southwest music festival. "It's just this enormous blank page."
Her new album, "Hard Bargain" (Nonesuch), due for release this week, is suffused with kindly intimacy, acknowledging sorrows and reaching past them. It is one of only three of her albums for which Ms. Harris wrote the majority of the songs by herself: "Red Dirt Girl" in 2000, "Stumble Into Grace" in 2003 and now "Hard Bargain." (She also wrote the bulk of her 1985 album "The Ballad of Sally Rose" together with her husband at the time, the songwriter Paul Kennerley.) For the rest of more than two dozen albums since 1969 — and singing harmony with Gram Parsons, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews, Elvis Costello, Gillian Welch and Bright Eyes, among others — Ms. Harris has been an interpreter, lending her slender but tangy and determined voice to venerable songs and brand-new ones.
During SXSW, Ms. Harris played a full slate of private and public showcases, previewing "Hard Bargain." The radio performance was in a hotel ballroom for a large live audience, and Ms. Harris was dressed as a sweetheart of the rodeo, from cowboy boots and bluejeans to a lace-patterned top and a black cowgirl hat atop her proud mane of silvery hair. Coffee and performing adrenaline made her voluble; she usually sticks to tea. "Someone who's been on the road for 40 years — that's me," said Ms. Harris, who turned 64 this month. "I have spent a good deal of my life out there, and I have no regrets."
Born in Alabama, raised in Virginia, a longtime resident of California and then of Nashville, Ms. Harris has transformed her music repeatedly. During the 1970s and '80s, through a string of gold albums, she sang honky-tonk, rockabilly, bluegrass and country-folk as a sly traditionalist; she could illuminate country standards, yet also make a pop song from the Beatles or Donna Summer seem to sprout Southern roots. When she shared harmonies with two other country-rooted, pop-savvy women — Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton — on the 1987 album "Trio," it sold a million copies.
But in the early '90s, country radio stonewalled her album "Cowgirl's Prayer," Ms. Harris said, relegating her to the limbo of older performers. Ms. Harris decided to shake up her routine. She told her label that she had been listening to music from Daniel Lanois, the resonance-loving producer of U2 and Peter Gabriel. "Somebody made a phone call," and he was producing her.
The album they made, "Wrecking Ball" in 1995, introduced a new Ms. Harris, sounding more haunted and weathered, temporarily free of country trappings. But it, too, was a collection of other people's songs, and afterward Mr. Lanois urged her to write her next album herself. By 1999 she had gotten up the nerve to fill an album with her own songs.
"I'd been treading water and didn't even realize it," she said. "Sometimes you have to just go and look completely in a different direction and completely change your environment to break up your logjam."
"Hard Bargain" is the work of a songwriter thinking not only about herself but also about generations: mentors and ancestors, friends living and dead, children and grandchildren, mortality and faith.
"You get to a certain age when the life that has preceded you is going be longer than what is ahead of you," she said. "You just accept it — this is where you are at this point in your life. It wasn't like there was a theme in my head when I sat down to write. The ideas came out of what was happening in my world."
She recorded "Hard Bargain" in the West Nashville home studio of her producer, Jay Joyce. Although Ms. Harris's albums are generally full of guests — many of them returning favors for her backing vocals — the only performers on "Hard Bargain" are Ms. Harris, Mr. Joyce on guitars and keyboards and Giles Reaves on drums and keyboards.
Still, the songs aren't spartan; multiple guitars and keyboards gleam, from the twinkling folk-pop of "Hard Bargain" (a Ron Sexsmith song) to the rockabilly twang of "Six White Cadillacs," which treats death as a break from the road: "We won't have to wander anymore."
A mournful lullaby, "Goodnight Old World," looks to a newborn child to "soften the sorrow" of "this sad world"; Ms. Harris now has a young granddaughter. The song was written with Will Jennings, known for collaborating on Steve Winwood songs like "Higher Love." By telephone from his home in Santa Barbara, Calif., Mr. Jennings said: "I get inspired by voices, and when one comes forth so honestly and beautifully as hers, it really puts you on your mark as far as the words and the music. They have got to be true."
Like many of Ms. Harris's songs, "Goodnight Old World" hints at biblical phrases. "She and I both come out of the Southern culture," said Mr. Jennings, who was born in Texas. "There's always a hymn not too far away."
The album includes "Darlin' Kate," an elegy to Kate McGarrigle of the McGarrigle sisters, who shared vocal harmonies and songwriting with Ms. Harris on "Stumble Into Grace" and many other occasions; its modest banjo and piano backup recall the McGarrigles' parlor songs. Another elegy is "My Name Is Emmett Till," telling the story of the 14-year-old boy brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955. Ms. Harris's account mourns the life that Till never got to live, imagining his next generation: "Perhaps to be a father/With a black boy of my own." There's a third elegy as well: "The Road," one of Ms. Harris's many songs about the turning point of her life, singing with the country songwriter and Byrds member Gram Parsons, who died in 1973. Its chorus, she said, dates back to the '60s, before she met Parsons; it had lingered in her memory. "I don't write that many songs," she said.
The album also includes "The Ship on His Arm," a waltzing wartime romance. Its story was suggested by the lives of Ms. Harris's parents, Walter and Eugenia, who married during World War II. He was a Marine.
"They had one of the great love stories of all time," Ms. Harris said. "He goes off to war, she has my brother, he comes back and then they settle down to what they think will be a normal life, and the Korean conflict breaks out. I'm 5 years old, he goes off to war again, and his plane is shot down as soon as he gets over there. And for three months we don't even know if he's dead or alive. My mother lives through all of that."
Her father was a prisoner of war who was tortured, but he returned to raise a family that Ms. Harris called "this wonderful nest of support and love."
Only when she forced herself to take a kind of sabbatical could Ms. Harris concentrate on writing. "I just shut down," she said, "and get up in the morning and shut myself off like Rapunzel with a big pile of straw and try to come up with the gold."
Two of the most telling songs on "Hard Bargain" are about solitary women: "Nobody," tracing the life of someone who never finds "her one true love," and "Lonely Girl": "If love can't find me again/I'll put it all behind me then," she sings, "I'll just go and learn to sing another sad love song."
The melancholy in her songs sometimes surprises Ms. Harris. "I don't believe in this idea that we're going to be happy, happy people all the time and if we don't we're going to take a pill, or the idea that being melancholy or being sad is an unnatural state. But I actually have a pretty good life, and I'm a pretty upbeat person for the most part."
Her next few years are mapped out: more touring, a long-delayed duo album with the songwriter Rodney Crowell, other collaborations. Then, perhaps, she'll get around to writing more songs. "I still don't know if I have a craft," she said. "I just bumble through it and hope for the inspiration."
Emmylou's BBC Radio 2 – Simon Mayo interview aired last night. You can listen via the programme's website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00zzp8f (starts at 1:05:29).
The interview was earlier trailed on BBC Radio 2 - Chris Evans (breakfast show with 3 million listeners), which also featured a play of 'Hard Bargain'.
'Hard Bargain' is currently at #95 on the UK airplay charts.
'The Road' continues to receive numerous plays across regional stations.
Emmylou's BBC World Service – The Strand feature is due to get its first airing on tonight's (Fri Apr 1) programme, and will repeated throughout the next couple of weeks. You can listen via the programme's website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/arts/
Emmylou Harris has had a long and illustrious career in music. Writing and performing her own songs, reinterpreting other people's and collaborating with many high profile musicians through the years has meant that her sound has always been evolving whilst also acknowledging her country roots. As her new album "Hard Bargain" is released, in this special extended interview, she talks to Harriett Gilbert about her work, about storytelling in country music and also plays an exclusive track for us live in the studio.
The Strand is the BBC World Service's flagship daily arts programme. The World Service transmits in 27 languages to many parts of the world and has an average weekly audience of 188 million people.
Video: Emmylou Harris Performs from Her New Album, "Hard Bargain," for IFC at SXSW, Talks with Ted Leo - click here for Video & Story.
Hard Bargain, the new album from Emmylou Harris, due out April 26 on Nonesuch, is now available for pre-order in the Nonesuch Store bundled with an exclusive manuscript lyric sheet of the album's opening track, "The Road," a number of which will be autographed by Harris. On "The Road," Harris looks back on the formative time she spent with country/rock icon Gram Parsons at the beginning of her career.
In celebration of the album's release, Harris will embark on a series of performances including a showcase at the 2011 SXSW Music and Media Conference in Austin this month as well as special intimate shows at the El Rey in Los Angeles on April 21 and the Bowery Ballroom in New York on April 26. Additionally, on April 27, Harris will perform on the Late Show with David Letterman. For more tour information, visit nonesuch.com/on-tour.
Hard Bargain follows Harris' acclaimed 2008 release, All I Intended to Be, which received widespread acclaim—Newsweek called it an album that "shows that Harris is still the stalwart songbird at the top of the roost." The new album, which comprises 11 new songs by Harris as well as two covers, was produced by Jay Joyce (Cage the Elephant, Patty Griffin). A deluxe edition of the album, which includes a DVD featuring six performances interspersed with interviews, will also be available and is available for pre-order.
"We did the whole record in about a month, which is quite unusual for me. But I had all the material beforehand. I'd written 11 of the 13 songs and I really wanted to include two more by other writers," Harris explains. "One of the covers is Ron Sexsmith's 'Hard Bargain' which I absolutely love. The other is by Jay Joyce, called 'Cross Yourself.'
"We did the whole thing with just three musicians, me being one of them. Jay, the producer, and Giles Reeves play everything between them. It's not a stripped down record though; there's only one song that's a little bare bones. I'm basically a slow ballad-y person, but Jay managed to really move the songs up a bit. But they still have the same emotional feel."
In addition to "The Road," another of the album's songs looks back on a relationships that was central to Harris' creative life: she wrote "Darlin' Kate" for her close friend and collaborator Kate McGarrigle, who died last year of a rare form of cancer.
A 12-time Grammy winner and Billboard Century Award recipient, Emmylou Harris' contribution as a singer and songwriter spans 40 years. She has recorded more than 25 albums and has lent her talents to countless fellow artists' recordings. In recognition of her remarkable career, Harris was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
To pre-order the Hard Bargain CD and deluxe CD/DVD along with the manuscript lyric sheet of "The Road," head to the Nonesuch Store now. All orders include high-quality, 320 kbps MP3s of the album available on release day.