Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band

Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band

Last Date

Cimarron

Eminent

This is the first time that either of these two classic recordings by the Queen of Americana have ever appeared on CD. These reissues are both right. Brian Ahern (the original producer) remastered both from the original two-track masters, and both contain bonus tracks.

Last Date (from 1982) was Emmylou’s attempt to cast her Hot Band as one of the world’s greatest country bands. The lineup of this band is actually one of her least known lineups, but nonetheless, it was still one of the best country bands going at the time. This is the only released recording of this particular band performing live.

Last Date was also designed to capture the spirit of the honky-tonk as it would appear if filtered through Emmylou’s own background. None of these songs are actually from her repertoire of hits. (She did record a set’s worth of her hits from these dates, but those renderings have yet to be released.) As would be expected, Emmylou included a couple of Gram Parsons/Chris Hillman-penned tunes with “Juanita” and “Devil In Disguise,” as well as a cover of “Return of the Grievous Angel,” which was written by Thomas S. Brown and set to music by Parsons. Other, more current (at the time, anyway) songs that she elected to include are Springsteen’s “Racing in the Street” and Neil Young’s “Long May You Run.” Classic honky-tonk is also well represented here. It can be found in her covers of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin On” and Buck Owens’ “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” as well as the Conway Twitty/Floyd Cramer-penned title cut. The bonus tracks added to this release are “Another Pot of Tea” and “Maybe Tonight.”

Cimmaron was Emmylou’s tenth Warner Brothers release. By the time she’d recorded this album, she’d already had five albums certified gold, and had won three Grammys. Emmylou was one of the top female country stars of the day. Somehow she managed to pull all of this off while existing largely outside of the mainstream. She did not even live in Nashville at the time, choosing instead to make her home in Encino, California with her then-husband and producer, Brian Ahern.

The style of Emmylou’s music has never followed a particular pattern, other than it always seemed to challenge the prevailing notions of what will work commercially. The four albums preceding this one ranged from the old-fashioned country of Blue Kentucky Girl to the bluegrass of Roses in the Snow to the Christmas-titled Light of the Stable, through to the country-rock collection that was Evangeline. Cimmaron is comprised mostly of recordings from those four sessions. The songs from those sessions that didn’t fit as neatly into the individual concepts were fashioned into an album of their own. The result is an album that has a more contemporary country sound. The musicians on this album – which were mostly from different incarnations of the Hot Band – included James Burton, Ricky Scaggs, Hank DeVito, Glen D. Hardin, Emory Gordy Jr., John Ware, and Tony Brown among others.

Among the songs on Cimmaron are a heavenly version of Townes Van Vandt’s “If I Needed You,” in which Emmylou duets with Don Williams. “If I Needed You” earned Emmylou two Grammy nominations and reached #3 on the charts. Emmylou also reached the #3 chart position with Paul Kennerly’s “Born To Run,” a song that has become a staple in her live shows, appearing as late as last year on the Spyboy release. It was also the first of many Kennerly songs that she would later render.

Curiously, Cimmaron came about as close as Emmylou ever did to matching the typically held notions of what country music was at the time, yet most country music critics did not embrace it like they did her less conventional offerings. Country music is a weird business to be in, but Emmylou has prevailed and has succeeded in expanding its horizons, and will likely continue to do so.

Eminent Records, 2410 Belmont Blvd., Nashville, TN 37212; http://www.eminentrecords.com

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