Harris, the Low Anthem
Egg, Nov. 14
was largely the brainchild of the late ex-Byrd Gram Parsons,
and a major part of his legacy is his discovery and mentoring
of the remarkable Emmylou Harris. “She wasn’t nothin’ but
a folksinger,” he recalled in an interview, but under a tutelage
that lasted only two years before his death of a drug overdose
in 1973, Harris flowered into one of the finest country vocalists
of her generation. Now 63, the silvered-haired chanteuse and
guitarist showed a sellout audience at the Egg Sunday night
that she is still flat-out great.
Backed by a lean band consisting of Phil Madiera on keyboards,
accordion, and acoustic guitar, Rickie Simpkins on fiddle
and mandolin, Chris Donahue on electric and standup basses,
and Brian Owings on percussion, Harris performed a set of
originals and covers selected to showcase her velvety voice.
In many songs, no instrumental breaks were featured—or really
needed. Her singing alone, especially as it surged up to the
octave note time and again in the choruses, was soul-satisfying.
Wearing a purple, knee-length dress and gray cowboy boots,
Harris shouldered her big Gibson J-200 acoustic and led off
with “Here I Am.” From the first note it was clear that her
vocals were almost entirely undiminished—her pitch has remained
accurate, and that deep feeling of longing still suffuses
her work. Here and there a high note showed a trace of strain,
but even that melted away as her voice warmed up over the
first few tunes.
Standouts included “Tall Man,” a commemoration of the love
between June Carter and Johnny Cash (Cash had to endure a
month of agony detoxifying from drugs at Maybelle Carter’s
home before June would marry him); “Bang the Drum Slowly,”
a heartfelt tribute to Harris’ father, a Marine and Korean
War POW, co-written with Guy Clark; and Tracy Chapman’s spiritual
exhortation, “All That You Have Is Your Soul.” Also memorable
was her “Red Dirt Girl,” a lament for an ill-fated friend
from her native Alabama.
Late in the show, Harris, Madiera and Simpkins, accompanied
only by Donahue’s bowed bass, sang a soaring rendition of
the folk song “Bright Morning Start Is Rising.” True to country
music tradition, Harris closed with a sacred song, Bill Monroe’s
“Get Up, John.”
The opening act, eccentric acoustic quartet the Low Anthem,
unveiled new hope for insomniacs the world over. Although
they created some cool harmonies with an unusual assortment
of instruments including pump organ, jaw harp, clarinet, and
euphonium, as well as guitar, fiddle, bass, and mandolin,
most of their songs were slow and meditative to the point
of being soporific. Adding some uptempo material would be
a huge help.
40-something years in the music business, the Allman Brothers
Band aren’t the kind of band who need to have a new album
out in order to tour. So their show at the Palace Theatre
on Monday (Nov. 15) was, reportedly, a celebration of music
and the spirit of live performance. Besides selections from
their own catalog, the Allmans covered tunes by Van Morrison,
Dave Mason, and Bob Dylan; and the band, three drummers deep,
reportedly were on fire throughout the three-hour-plus set.