Emmylou Harris Pieces Of The Sky / Elite Hotel / Luxury Liner / Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town / Blue Kentucky Girl

Emmylou Harris Pieces Of The Sky / Elite Hotel / Luxury Liner / Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town / Blue Kentucky Girl
The reissue of these first five major label albums from Harris puts some long overdue perspective on her early career now that she has been vaulted to the position of Americana’s Queen Mother. By contrast, these recordings capture the innocent, and at times clumsy, first steps of her solo career following the untimely death of her mentor, Gram Parsons, in 1973. He introduced Harris’s vocal gifts on his two solo albums, but after finding a new partner in producer Brian Ahern, the task became finding the right formula to bring her folk rock/country hybrid to the mainstream. The debut, Pieces Of The Sky, is essentially the blueprint for the rest: a grab bag of country standards and appropriate contemporary material, and always at least one selection by Parsons. Sky holds up well, bolstered by the hit cover of the Louvins’ "If I Could Only Win Your Love,” and her moving tribute to Gram, "Boulder To Birmingham.” Elite Hotel sounds more confident, with the first version of Rodney Crowell’s widely-covered "Till I Gain Control Again,” and three live tracks showcasing the skills of the Hot Band, featuring the core of Elvis’s players, augmented by young bloods like Crowell, Ricky Skaggs and Albert Lee. By 1977’s Luxury Liner, Harris had sung with Dylan, Neil Young, and appeared in the Band’s The Last Waltz. If there was a moment when her stars were aligned, this was it, and the album shows it. The band is in top form, and while covers of Townes Van Zandt’s "Poncho & Lefty” and the Carter Family’s "Hello Stranger,” seem like no-brainers, by now Harris was truly a singer who could make the phone book sound heartbreaking. It’s puzzling then, why something seems to be lacking on Quarter Moon and Blue Kentucky Girl. Granted, the formula was getting a tad predictable by then, despite further strong contributions from Crowell ("Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This”) and guest spots from Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Tanya Tucker and Don Everly. Harris would rebound strongly with the more bluegrass Roses In The Snow, but all of these releases stand as a testament to her success at carrying Parsons’ musical torch into a new era and setting the stage for the current wave of female alt-country artists. Each reissue also comes with two previously unheard bonus tracks, extensive notes and photos. All are worth having, but those on a budget can get by with the first three as an introduction to Emmylou’s timeless magic. (Rhino)