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2023 Albums Thing 152 - Emmylou Harris “Blue Kentucky Girl”

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The Hot Band are all here, we have contributions from Dolly and Linda Ronstadt, an Everly Brother and, most importantly for me, Gram is back. “Blue Kentucky Girl” (a song originally recorded by the great Loretta Lynn in 1965) finds Emmylou moving to a much more trad Country style, perhaps following rumblings from some Country purists that the Country Rock style she’d forged ahead with was more Rock than Country.

Let’s get straight to it. The absolute gem on this record is the cover of Gram Parson’s “Hickory Wind”. It is one of Gram’s greatest songs, written and recorded for The Byrds album “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo” in 1968, the very birth point of Country Rock. He then recorded another version in a faux-live style for his 1974 solo album “Grievous Angel”, a version on which Emmylou sings with him. She gives it everything here and I’d argue it’s one of her greatest vocal performances. You can hear the longing and the loss in her voice and there’s a rough edge to her singing that you don’t usually hear from her. A great take of a wonderful song.

There’s another Louvin Brothers song sung in duet with Don Everly. The closing two songs are as Country as Country can be. Firstly Loretta Lynn’s song that lends its title to this album, one of those lyrics that maybe Loretta wasn’t entirely happy with, telling her roving man he can come back anytime to his blue Kentucky girl, even the strongest personalities had to bow to the Nashville studio execs sometimes. The Coal Miners Daughter was, after all, no stranger to having her own songs censored, particularly “The Pill” in which she wasn’t telling any roving man to come back “Miniskirts, hot pants, and a few little fancy frills, Yeah, I'm making up for all those years since I've got the pill”, sent shockwaves through Nashville and was much more Loretta’s style !

The final track is Rodney Crowell’s “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues” including harmony vocal support from Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. This track came out of some ill-fated recording sessions where the trio attempted to make an album together. It took them another 9 years before they managed to nail that.

This is a much better record than its predecessor. Better arranged, performed and recorded, there’s just more life to it. It’s very much more “Country” than her previous records but even the go at The Drifters “Save The Last Dance For Me”, country style, works. There’s also that little rough edge to Emmylou’s voice that I’ve not heard before. Oh, and Gram.

Hickory Wind - https://youtu.be/gDrf1sOLgEk

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