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2023 Albums Thing 153 - Emmylou Harris “Roses In The Snow”

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Following on from “Blue Kentucky Girl” and it’s more straight ahead Country sound “Roses In The Snow” is Emmylou Harris possibly giving the bird to those Country purists who were saying she wasn’t Country enough and making a Bluegrass album…is that Country enough for all o’ y’all ! Ricky Scaggs, a renowned Bluegrass mandolin and fiddle player, had been a member of the Hot Band for some years and you can’t help but imagine he must have had some influence on this stylistic turn.

On this album Emmylou performs songs made famous by Bluegrass legends Flatt & Scruggs, the first family of Country, the Carter Family, Johnny Cash and the most un-Bluegrass Paul Simon. Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Bluegrass guitar maestro Tony Rice make guest appearances. The other significant appearance on “Roses In The Snow” is autoharpist Bryan Bowers, whose presence on the record adds the sound of the Carter Family, Mother Maybelle Carter played the instrument, which in turn lent the album the old-time sound that Harris and producer Brian Ahern were aiming for.

In the early 80’s Nashville was in the middle of its Urban Cowboy period, thanks to the movie of the same name starring John Travolta! Light poppy Country music was back on the radio and was becoming a big deal after a few years of (sales) stagnation. Some in Country music though were looking back to more traditional earlier forms and anticipating the rise of the likes of Dwight Yoakam and the alt. Country style later in the 80’s, this album would have been a big deal when it landed on the record company. Bluegrass and Appalachian music would see its rise some 20 years later (thanx in part to another movie “O Brother Where Art Thou”) but in the early 80’s it was a no-no. But Emmylou was and always had been a good seller, so the record company went with it.

And this is different from the off. On the Title track we hear fiddles, banjos, acoustic guitars, fabulous harmonies courtesy of vocal trio The Whites (featuring Ricky Scaggs wife Sharon White BTW), all the lead instruments given their spot to shine as they dip and wind and spin around each other, let’s not forget that in its time Bluegrass was dance music and “Roses In The Snow” (the song) swings. That mood is picked up again on side two’s “I’ll Go Stepping Too” and “Jordan” featuring the unmistakable vocals of the mighty Johnny Cash.

There are so many great things on this record it’s hard to pick out a single highlight. That first blast on the title track is a hoot(enanny), the version of the traditional classic “Wayfaring Stranger” (later made even more accessible by Johnny Cash on “American III”), “Green Pastures”, a duet with Ricky Scaggs with harmonies provided by Dolly Parton and “Gold Watch and Chain”, an A.P Carter (Carter Family) penned song which highlights Skaggs and Linda Ronstadt. Even the version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” fits right in. 

This is music that Jason Isbell will soon describe in song as being made by “old men with old guitars, smoking Winston Lights” and “harmonising with the wind”, the sort of music that, in my idealised picture of the South, families sit around on their porches playing and singing with each other. This is folk music in all its glory, music made and played by the folk.

It’s over in a flash, it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. Let’s call it Emmylou’s best and most consistent album since “Pieces Of The Sky”. It may also be a terrible thing to say and of no interest to anyone but me but, Emmylou looks utterly stunning on the cover picture of this record, the first time I really noticed what a beauty she is. Anyways don’t mind me, this is a great record.

Roses In The Snow - https://youtu.be/T5z4a-AgUUI


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