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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Gigs - Emmylou Harris - Bridgewater Hall

Star rating – 9/10

Emmylou Harris is back in the UK for a select series of live dates, one of which I am very happy to say was last night in Manchester. And if I am half as good looking and energetic at 64 as the remarkable country legend is, then I will be very happy indeed.

She has a back catalogue to die for by now, as a result of having 21 solo albums and many more compilations with others besides. And she is also promoting her newly released ‘Hard Bargain’ album, which contains some great songs, with a couple of uncharacteristically weaker tracks – more of that later.

Emmylou has a voice so pure and clear, and yet so powerful, that it soars effortlessly above her talented band, the Red Dirt Boys. She does seem to have a knack of surrounding herself with very talented musicians, and the three of the band whose voices we heard more of last night were also great singers too. And she obviously still loves what she does – singing country music and having a great time playing with her band.

There were great old favourites like the hauntingly sad ‘Red Dirt Girl’, ‘Orphan Girl, and ‘Goin' Back to Harlan’. There were songs that had you tapping your feet and wishing you weren’t sitting down like ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Luxury Liner’. And there was the inevitable homage to her long gone muse Gram Parsons, in back to back numbers of ‘The Road’, possibly the strongest track on her latest album, and the achingly desperate and empty ‘Boulder to Birmingham’ which she wrote following his sudden and tragic death in 1973. She is always happy to give thanks to him for the love of country music that he gave to her, but it could also be rather cheesily remarked that he also gave her broken heart, something that was a bit lacking before his demise, and something that all true country stars undeniably need at some stage.

Emmylou never short changes her audience, and last night was no exception. My only gripe is that amongst the great tracks on ‘Hard Bargain’ like ‘Darlin’Kate’ (a homage to her late friend Kate McGarrigle), and ‘My Name is Emmett Till’ about the rampant racism in old time America, she had to play the track which I think is the weakest she has produced for many a year, ‘Big Black Dog’. But I was even ready to forgive her this tribute to her canine pet, as she is as wonderful a performer, and just as great a human being, as you will ever see perform on any stage. Long may she rock.

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