Southern Songbird

Emmylou Harris will choose from the best music on her 23 albums when she sings here Saturday

March 22, 2007|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

Emmylou Harris thinks of it as a dance.

The country-pop singer-songwriter has paired her silver-pure voice with some of the best in the business, including Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, to name a few. And after nearly 40 years of making consistently strong music, Harris is still a sought-after duet, or "dancing," partner.

"I've asked people to dance myself," she says, "but people have come to me. I find it inspiring. Every combination of voices is going to be different."

Her latest release, the inspired Real Live Roadrunning, is a concert CD-DVD with Mark Knopfler. It was recorded last November at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, Calif., the culmination of a successful national tour with the former Dire Straits frontman.

"It was an absolute joy to do that record," says the artist, 59, who last week was relaxing at her Nashville, Tenn. home. "Mark was an absolute delight."

But for her show at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Saturday, Harris will delve into her solo classics, many of which are chronicled on Heartaches & Highways: The Very Best of Emmylou Harris, a single-disc compilation she co-produced and released two years ago with James Austin.

"We went back and forth with a lot of ideas," says the singer, whose last studio release was 2003's marvelous Stumble Into Grace. "I didn't want it to be a greatest hits. But it was difficult to do."

With a catalog spanning 23 albums, the Birmingham, Ala., native had a difficult time cherry-picking and sequencing cuts that crystallized her stylistic evolution. But it made perfect sense to open Heartaches & Highways with "Love Hurts," a 1974 hit duet with the late Gram Parsons. The rest of the set traces Harris' journey from a slightly tentative, somber-voiced singing partner to an assured vocalist and thoughtful songwriter: Later tracks such as 2000's "Michelangelo" and 2003's "Here I Am" are sterling examples of Harris' graceful approach.

"All of the material is still fresh to me," the singer-musician says, her voice soothing with a delicate Southern twang. "The songs still stand the test of time. It's great to have that as your body of work. The people that I've been able to work with were incredible. In this business, you just don't work alone. Everything, every note, the sound the engineer gets - it all keeps your creative juices going. Talk about collaborative - it's all a collaborative effort."

In September, Rhino will release Songbird, a box set that will offer a much deeper overview of Harris' career, during which she has successfully traversed bluegrass, folk, country-rock and Americana. She also oversaw the project. When she's not playing spot dates around the world or caring for her nine dogs at her home, Harris is working on new material at a leisurely pace.

"I just wait for the inspiration," she says. "I don't know if there are any more fields to plow. But every album is a challenge."

The new project, still untitled, will hit stores early next year.

"I've been stewing around in the same pot," Harris says of the music on the new album. "It's like a family reunion record. I'm working with a lot of musicians I love. There will be some dancing."

To hear clips of Harris' music, go to baltimoresun.com/listeningpost.

See Emmylou Harris at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St., on Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $50-$75 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-SEAT or going to ticketmaster.com.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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