Emmylou Harris just turned 70.
Like many a great artist, I actually haven’t heard that much of her music over the years. As I’ve noted before — just last week! — my relationship with country music is complicated, and Harris isn’t really the type of singer that one hears a lot on the country stations these days anyway. Her brand of folkish country doesn’t seem to really ride alongside crap like “Red Solo Cup” and “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue”, does it?
But while Harris has never really been on my radar in a big way, I’ve always been aware of her and her lyrical voice. Here is a small selection of songs. Note the presence of three duets. This isn’t really an accident. Duets can be problematic for some singers, as they end up being mostly a song split in two, so that each singer can have equal share of the spotlight. Emmylou Harris has an instinctive sense of how to use her voice to complement that of her duet partner, whomever that might be. It’s not just how to harmonize or how to balance out, dynamics-wise. She pays attention to her partner and, most importantly, her partner’s phrasing. That’s pretty amazing, because every singer phrases differently.
I may not have heard much Emmylou Harris over the years, but I’ve never once heard her and not concluded that she’s amazing.
(For more, see Roger’s post.)