It's difficult to write about Emmylou Harris without lapsing into a long train of superlatives – she really does have one of the most beautiful voices of her generation, and her taste in material and skill in using her instrument is nearly faultless. However, as good as Harris is and as consistently strong as her body of work has been, one could make a convincing argument that she's been frequently underrated through much of her career – more than just a lovely woman with a pure, clear voice and a fine ear, she's championed a number of gifted songwriters before they went on to have distinguished careers of their own (from Rodney Crowell to Gillian Welch), matured into a first-rate tunesmith herself, collaborated with a remarkable array of artists, and has never been afraid to take her talents into unexpected directions, from purist bluegrass to the experimental atmospherics of her work with Daniel Lanois.
Although it is no secret that Emmylou Harris is one of the modern era's most prolific guest vocalists, it's only when you see her appearances laid out one after the other that you realize just how many other performers have called upon her over the years – a gamut that runs from Linda Ronstadt to Little Feat, from Bob Dylan to Bonnie Raitt.
In 1995, Emmylou Harris made a decisive break with her creative past, recording the album Wrecking Ball with producer Daniel Lanois and abandoning the traditional country purity of her best-known work for lovely but spectral musical landscapes and exploring her muse as a songwriter in a way she had never attempted before. After Wrecking Ball, Harris recorded three albums in which she made the most of her new creative freedom and honed her impressive gifts as a songwriter, but All I Intended to Be, her first new release in five years, finds her reaching back toward a sound and style that recall the country and folk influences of her earlier work. But All I Intended to Be is clearly the work of an artist who is looking to the past entirely on her own terms, and with the lessons learned since 1995 clearly audible at all times.
Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris have frequently collaborated over the course of their long careers. Their voices are made for each other in a yin-yang meeting of Ronstandt's rich velvet alto and Harris' songbird-sweet soprano. The Tucson Sessions takes their collaborations to new heights. A collection of covers and originals tracing various paths of love and loss, the performances seem to have breathed in the desert where they were recorded. Arrangements airy as the space between desert and sky are grounded by gritty guitars, splashed with color from folk instruments and filled with glorious harmonies.
12-time Grammy Award winner Emmylou Harris has, in the last decade, gained admiration as much for her eloquently straightforward songwriting as for her incomparably expressive singing. Few in pop or country music have achieved such honesty or revealed such maturity in their writing. In this 2000 concert, Emmylou Harris combined tasteful choices from her early repertoire with newer work, often her own compositions, backed by the band she called Spyboy, which featured the hard-working guitarist and singer Buddy Miller.
This live project, which includes the talents of the always great Buddy Miller, is an interesting reflection of an American icon. Eclectic, it is reflective of Emmylou Harris' excursions into areas of music beyond the country and rock spheres she has already conquered. But it is the country arena that best showcases her ever-flowering ability with a song…