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2023 Albums Thing 148 - Emmylou Harris “Pieces Of The Sky”

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Emmylou Harris came to the world’s attention when she duetted with Gram Parsons on his two solo albums (“GP” and “Grievous Angel”) and toured as part of his band the Fallen Angels. She’d been “discovered” by Chris Hillman singing in a folk club in Washington DC. Hillman told Parsons about her as he knew he was looking for a female singer to work with and the rest, as they say…

“Pieces Of The Sky” is Emmylou’s 2nd solo album (she had released an obscure folky album “Gliding Bird” in 1969 that I think she now disowns). Following Gram Parson’s death in 1973 she formed a writing and performing partnership with Texan Rodney Crowell and released this album in 1975. Alongside Crowell the album features some Country music heavyweights, James Burton on guitar, Ricky Scaggs on fiddle, a fresh from the Eagles Bernie Leadon and Little Feat’s Bill Payne on piano.

The songs are a mixture of Crowell originals (the wonderful opening “Bluebird Wine”), country standards (the Lovin Brothers “If I Could Only Win Your Love”) and songs by contemporary Country artists (Merle Haggard’s “Bottle Let Me Down” and Dolly Parton’s “Coat Of Many Colours”). There’s even a Beatles song (“For No One”). However, the absolute highlight of this album is Emmylou’s hymn to Gram Parsons, “Boulder To Birmingham”. 

Co-written with Bill Danoff (the writer of “Take Me Home, Country Roads”) “Boulder To Birmingham” has become Emmylou’s signature song. Gram Parsons had been a friend, mentor, teacher and possibly much more to Emmylou and this song lays out in no uncertain terms her feelings about Gram after his passing

“I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham, I would hold my life in his saving grace, 

I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham, If I thought I could see, I could see your face"

Although in years to come she would cover many of Gram’s songs Emmylou didn’t write so openly about him for over 30 years. I found Emmylou via her duets with Gram Parsons and the reason I own so many of her records is because of her versions of Gram’s songs and because I’ve become captivated by her voice. It’s high and pure and clear with a sadness you can feel. If I was to understand the Country music term “high lonesome” I’d understand it as Emmylou Harris’ voice. 

At the time it was made, due mainly to the stellar musicians involved, “Pieces Of The Sky” was one of the most expensive records produced in Nashvile to date. Emmylou along with Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and the Bakersfield Outlaws (Willie, Merle and Waylon) helped drive a move toward more authenticity in Country music which, in the mid 70’s, was getting lost in the glamour and glitz of poppy Nashville produced Country & Western (I will always maintain there is a difference between Country music and C&W). She may not be for everyone of you but you’re gonna have to stick with me while I work through the 9 albums of hers that are in my collection. Who knows, you might find something you didn’t even know you liked.

Boulder To Birmingham - https://youtu.be/xaIe_e4nxBY

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