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Emmylou Harris dishes out a night of breathtaking music

Sun Theatre, Anaheim, Cal., July 8, 2001

By Dan MacIntosh

ANAHEIM, CA - It's hard to believe it has taken Emmylou Harris this long to bring support of her "Red Dirt Girl" album to the Los Angeles area. The album, released last fall, may be old by music industry standards, but Harris exhibited undaunted enthusiasm for this very personal album of hers, as she performed many songs from it throughout the night.

In fact, on the rare occasions when she reached back for pre-"Wrecking Ball" selections, the gray-haired Harris referred to these songs as being from her 'brunette days.' These included two Gram Parsons-related songs ("Wheels" and "Hickory Wind") as well as a souped-up rockabilly take on Rodney Crowell's "Ain't Living Long Like This," powered by Buddy Miller's unbelievably fast guitar licks.

Miller also shined vocally, as he harmonized often with Harris during the set. Their singing of "Love Hurts," especially, was a moment of vocal beauty.

Harris was in fine voice this night, and the Sun Theatre's stellar sound system helped in a big way to support her sometimes frail singing. Her gentle performance of the self-written "Michelangelo" and her rocking run through of Patty Griffin's "One Big Love" showcased just why songwriters must most certainly dearly love the way she brings out every nuance of a song.

Her band Spyboy proved to be a particularly elastic unit, as it switched comfortably from quiet country to out-and-out rock and roll and only overstretched its limitations with an uncalled for funk jam at the end of Daniel Lanois' thoughtfully spiritual "The Maker."

But it's always better to err on the side of too much - when it comes to musical inspiration - than too little, and Harris is still a staunchly progressive artist. So, don't ever let her gray hair fool you into thinking otherwise.

Joe Henry was the perfect fit for an opening act, since his penetrating observations into matters of the heart are set to explorative jazzy piano and guitar flavored settings. Oftentimes, these circumstances colored Henry as a sort of less-nicotined Tom Waits.

Songs like "Struck" and "Scar" had all the lyrical personality of "Blood On The Tracks"-era Bob Dylan material, so it wouldn't come as any surprise to hear Harris one day covering one of his tunes.

This show was a success on multiple levels. Due to its high caliber musicianship, this evening's performances would have been satisfying for their instrumental elements alone. But when you tack on the all the great singing and songwriting that went into each set, you come away with one truly memorable night of breathtaking music.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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