Harris’s Hard Bargain
AMUST-SEE for country music fans – and music fans in general – Emmylou Harris’s songs are the stuff of life.
Harris is on the Coast to perform songs from her latest album, Hard Bargain, at her only Queensland show, at Jupiters Hotel & Casino tomorrow night.
In some ways, the album is symbolic of her two passions – music and her animal rescue work. Harris’s property in Nashville, Tennessee, is home to Bonaparte’s Retreat, the at-risk dog rescue project she started in 2004.
One of the 11 new songs Harris penned for Hard Bargain is Big Black Dog. The song is about Bella, a dog with ‘‘a little too much grey around the muzzle’’ that she adopted.
Harris penned the tune, and the other songs on her album, in her writing room at home.
‘‘For some reason I felt very comfortable in here, like a little nest or something up in the trees, you know?’’ she says.
‘‘I just said, ‘Well, I need to try to write’, so I just locked myself away like the character in Rumpelstiltskin: ‘Don’t come out of there until you spin all that straw into gold!’ ‘‘So I got a big bunch of straw.’’ Harris emerged from the room having taken something of an emotional journey. She visits two of her greatest influences, Gram Parsons and the late Kate McGarrigle, ponders difficult questions – like stolen youth, death, the quick passage of time, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans – and does it in a subtle, stripped-down way that’s simple yet still powerful.
The 65-year-old played the songs for sometimecollaborator Jay Joyce and asked him to produce the album. He brought in Giles Reaves and the three joined an engineer and Joyce’s sweaterchomping dog, Clarence, in Joyce’s studio to lay down simple versions of the songs.
Harris’s collaborators often come away mesmerised after working with her and Joyce definitely experienced the magic she’s spun during her 40-year career.
‘‘She’s just got a real wisdom about her,’’ Joyce says.
‘‘You just kind of forget you’re making a record. You’re just having fun playing music. She’s kind of like one of the people in the band. She comes from that sort of place.’’
She got that from her time with Parsons, a deep influence with whom she worked for a short time before his death in 1973. It was Parsons who showed her the beauty of traditional country music.
She opens the album with The Road, a nostalgic remembrance of Parsons.
It is an expansive look at their relationship, one that sent 12-time Grammy winner Harris on the way to iconic status.
‘‘It was like my ears opened up for the first time and I heard the connection between my ear and my heart. I crossed a line,’’ Harris says.
‘‘It changed the way I heard music. It it was like ground zero for me.’’
Emmylou Harris and Her Dirt Red Boys play Jupiters Hotel & Casino tomorrow at 7.30pm.