Sunday, April 02, 2017

Cosmic American Exceptionalism

Here comes a sunny Spring birthday post, in tribute to a living monument of American music, who's turning a milestone 70 today.
It's no overstatement at all to say that today's honoree has seen and done it all, in a still-vital career that spans nearly the last half century.
She was discovered by members of The Flying Burrito Brothers, who brought her to Country Rock fusion pioneer Gram Parsons, who by that time was out of the Burritos and ready to step out on his own, well-storied career, which would be cut short by his overdose death in 1973.
Gram hated the term Country Rock, insisting his sound was more accurately described as Cosmic American Music, a then-nascent genre that would come to be termed what we now call Americana.
Of course these days this kind of music is among the most popular on Earth, with 5 or 6 radio stations in every city playing it 24/7, but back in the early 1970s it was just taking shape as the art form it was to become. Today's b'day girl is one big reason why it took such fruitful root in our culture.
When Parsons passed away in 1973, she made a solemn vow to carry his vision into the future, and by all accounts it appears she made more than good on that promise. Really a fairly straightforward Folk artist when they met in 1971, today Emmylou Harris must be considered one of the leading lights, originators and pillar progenitors of the Cosmic American concept.
Possessor of one of the most immediately identifiable voices in the history of recorded sound, she has made and participated in literally dozens of albums, and had her compositions covered and her style emulated by an uncountable number of artists.
That voice, though. Somewhere between a high lonesome melancholic ache and a joyous Gospel moan, it's impossible to describe the breadth and depth of her completely unique vocal abilities and overall songwriting artistry. If you were making a list of the top-drawer, Hall of Fame creators of Americana, she'd be in there on the first ballot.
This charter member of the Cosmic American pantheon turns 70 years young today and she has lost precisely nothing over the last 45 years since bursting onto the scene as a part of Gram Parsons' band and his go-to vocal duet foil.
She is the one singing alongside Bob Dylan on my favorite all-time track of his, "One More Cup of Coffee" from 1975's Desire LP. She's made records and songs with everyone from Dylan to Dolly Parton and has shown no signs of a slowdown as she achieves septuagenarian status today.
To celebrate this icon of High Lonesome heartsong on her big day, I have dusted off a criminally undercirculated and never-commercially-issued episode of the seminal German television series Musikladen, taped 40 years and one week ago in Bremen.
This is presented via a lovely PAL DVD made from a master VHS tape someone recorded off of the music channel VH1, back 30 years ago when it first started and they'd have whole weekends where they'd show full episodes of stuff like this.
The band in this 40 minutes of exquisite footage additionally features a number of heavyweights besides the star of our show, including Rodney Crowell and master guitar god Albert Lee from the great group Head Hands & Feet, and as I said isn't easy to find in lossless video form, unless you are reading this page right now.
Emmylou Harris
WDR-TV Studios
Bremen, Germany

01 Cash On the Barrelhead
02 I'll Be Your San Antone Rose
03 Coat of Many Colors
04 Feelin' Single, Seein' Double
05 Together Again
06 Making Believe
07 Hello Stranger
08 Country Boy
09 Boulder to Birmingham
10 C'est La Vie
11 Ooh La Vegas

Total time: 40:23

Emmylou Harris - guitar and vocals
Albert Lee - lead guitar, vocals
Rodney Crowell - rhythm guitar and vocals
Emory Gordy - bass and vocals
Hank DeVito - pedal steel guitar
Glen Hardyn - piano
John Ware - drums

PAL DVD, likely of a master VHS of a rebroadcast from the early days of VH1
This is as potent an example as any I could name of what she does, and a fantastic snapshot of her Hot Band in full flight on one of their early European tours. Pull it down and let it infuse your sunny Sunday with just the proper proportion of Cosmic Country comfort, and as you do be thankful for the likes of Emmylou Harris -- born this day in 1947 -- and surely one of the most gorgeous and gifted ladies of the music of our age, or any other for that matter.--J.

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