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Emmylou Harris on the Cayamo Cruise

Mar 1, 2008
Kimmy Sophia Brown

What a beautiful woman. That’s the first thing I want to say about Emmylou. She is a silver fox. I kept saying to everyone around me, if God could come down as a woman he would appear as Emmylou. She has queenly dignity, motherly warmth and feminine beauty, besides having a voice that conveys a lifetime of wisdom, insight and emotion.

Emmylou on the Cayamo Cruise 2008She came out on stage wearing tan suede boots, a dress with a pattern in blues and browns and an open brown silk shirt over the dress. Her hair was a gorgeous, silver mane. She told the audience, “I’m sixty! Sixty is it!” Her back up band included the ubiquitous Buddy Miller, Chris Donahue on bass and Brian Owens on tambourine. She grabbed a guitar and said, “Wrong guitar! I need the third fret one - they don’t let me touch it or I’ll mess it up. I’m from the time when they pumped your gas for you!” She played, “Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town”. While Buddy helped with her guitar she said, “What would Buddy do?” And they did, “Sweet old world”, and “Wheel”. She did a song about Jesse James which she introduced by saying, “I wrote and recorded this next song with Mark Knopfler. It’s a strange song for me because it’s relatively happy!”

She did a lot of tunes and then Shawn Colvin came out wearing a black newsboy cap. Emmylou said, “This is a song about being a parent. My kids are grown up and we worry. My mother is in the audience and she worries about me. Shawn’s daughter is nine and she worries about her. They sang “Love and Happiness for You”.

She did a heartbreaking song of faith called “Orphan Girl”:

“I am an orphan
on God's highway
But I'll share my troubles
if you go my way

I have no mother
no father no sister
No brother
I am an orphan girl

I have had friendships
pure and golden
But the ties of kinship
I have not known them

I know no mother
no father no sister
No brother
I am an orphan girl

But when he calls me
I will be Able
To meet my family
at God's table

I'll meet my mother
my father my sister
My brother
no more an orphan girl

Blessed savior
make me willing
And walk beside me
until I'm with them

Be my mother
my father my sister
My brother
I am an orphan girl

Be my mother
my father my sister
My brother
I am an orphan girl
I am an orphan girl”

Her husky, honest, voice makes me think of stars over deserts. Sometimes it thins out to a gauzy breath and yet gives depth and resonance to every harmony. She takes up residence in each song, and expresses it anew as if she never sung it before. The songs fell like flower petals on us; bedtime stories, firelight within, love songs, songs of faith, lost love, and pathos. She said she was friends with Johnny and June Cash and wrote a song when June was going to get out of the hospital. They both passed away soon after that and she said she thought that June probably dropped the song in her lap, “Strong Hand, (For June)”.

She said, “One of my best friends with one of the best voices is Linda Ronstadt. I love singing with her.” She said they did an album a few years ago called the “Western Wall”. A few people in the audience hooted (I was one of them) and she said something like, “Oh you bought the two copies we sold. My mother bought the rest!” (I did a review of that album and I loved it.) She wrote a song for that album with Kate and Anna McGarrigle called, “All I left behind”. Lovely.

She did a few duets with Buddy, among them a real pretty love song called, “My Antonia”. I read in an interview that she put the song aside after starting to write it because it was written from a man’s point of view. (Like the book written by Willa Cather?) Then she toured with Dave Matthews and he offered a unique harmony and became, in her words, “the leading man” for the song.

I cried when she sang the Everly Brothers’, “Love Hurts” with Buddy. That’s what I mean about an old song that she must have sung a million times before but that still sounds fresh. She first sang it with Gram Parsons in the 70’s. Another Emmylou composition was “Michelangelo”. It reminded me of Leonard Cohen’s, “Suzanne.” I read in an interview that the song came to her in a dream, and that one of the lines was inspired by a line of Carl Sandburg poetry that she rewrote. Another exquisite composition was “The Pearl”. Shawn Colvin and Patty Griffin sang harmony.

Sorrow is constant and the joys are brief
The seasons come and bring no sweet relief
Time is a brutal but a careless thief
Who takes our lot but leaves behind the grief

It is the heart that kills us in the end
Just one more old broken bone that cannot mend
As it was now and ever shall be amen

And we cry Allelujah Allelujah
We cry Allelujah

So there'll be no guiding light for you and me
We are not sailors lost out on the sea
We were always headed toward eternity
Hoping for a glimpse of Galilee

Like falling stars from the universe we are hurled
Down through the long loneliness of the world
Until we behold the pain become the pearl

Cryin’ Allelujah Allelujah
We cry Allelujah

And we cry Allelujah Allelujah
We cry Allelujah

At different points she mused about people who might come on the boat. “Love the boat!” She said many times during the cruise, “Would the McGarrigles come on the boat? Would Lucinda Williams come on the boat?”

She did several songs with Shawn Colvin and Patty Griffin, although the sound wasn’t balanced correctly and it was hard to hear the harmonies. They did another tear-jerkin’ song about eternal true love, entitled, “When we’re gone - long gone”.

“And when we're walking together in glory
Hand in hand through eternity
It's the love that will be remembered
Not wealth, not poverty

And when we're gone, long gone
The only thing that will have mattered
Is the love that we shared
And the way that we cared
When we're gone, long gone”

Emmylou honors and acknowledges the other musicians playing with her, giving them credit and praise throughout the set. She has been working for years to cross-pollinate musical styles with performers of different musical genres and has traveled all over the world participating in music festivals like this one. I was thrilled to be in her presence.

Photo by Genevieve Lessard, Cayamo Cruise 2008

Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember.She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.

She writes the column "From the Back Porch" as well as reviews of music in her column "MusicViews". Her goal in her music reviews is to introduce music she loves to people who may not have heard that particular artist or CD. For information about how to submit a CD for review, click here.

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