fri 21/09/2018

Emmylou Harris, Brighton Dome | reviews, news & interviews

Emmylou Harris, Brighton Dome

Emmylou Harris, Brighton Dome

Despite poor sound, country legend ultimately proves a bewitching spectacle

Emmylou: elegant and well mannered.© Jack Spencer

Sometimes it feels as though modern music has lost its magic – that the more that's produced the more ordinary it seems. Last night, however, down the Bohemian end of one British seaside town, the crowd sat expecting something pretty special. They had good reason. These days 67-year-old Emmylou Harris, with her long silver hair not only looks Southern gothic but sounds it too.

Harris is over to celebrate the reissue of 1995’s Wrecking Ball. The original was an alt-country landmark in which Emmylou swapped her trademark quavering harmonies for an ageless, spectral sound. U2/ Bob Dylan “atmosphere king” Daniel Lanois sat at the producer’s desk.

For the most part, the rough edges suited Lanois’ moody readings of this unusual collection of songs

Last night he was also the lynchpin of Harris’s band. And even before the main act had stepped onto the stage, Lanois and the boys performed an entire set. They were there, in his words, to “warm up the crowd, whilst Emmylou does her singing exercises and sips whisky”. With a single velvet curtain behind them and standing on a low stage the Daniel Lanois Band looked as though they might have been performing at a High School ball.

Unfortunately, to begin with, they sounded like it too: Not in how they were playing, but the sound was so loud and distorted that for the first ten minutes many listened with hands over their ears. Still, a few minutes and several complaints later it returned to a more normal, if not particularly impressive, quality.  

Soon Emmylou came out looking tall and elegant. She wore a black top, a grey and white skirt and spoke in a gentle, well-mannered way. She even maintained that soft demeanour when telling a heckler, angry about the set being played, that it had been well-publicised they were going to run through the entire album.

And they did – song by song. Although Emmylou’s voice has changed somewhat since the record was recorded, for the most part, the rough edges suited Lanois’ moody readings of this unusual collection of songs. Jim Wilson provided a U2-ish tone on his bass and Steven Nistor’s drums were light of touch.

The most transporting tunes of the night were neither those written by the biggest stars nor the most successful on the record. The prettiest was probably the McGarrigle sisters “Goin' back to Harlan”. But it had strong competition from Lanois’ own “Blackhawk”.

Rather irritatingly though, there was still a patch in Harris's register (and sometimes on Lanois’ guitar fretboard) with which the PA system was struggling. It marred several moments, not least, and pretty unforgiveably “Sweet Old World”. The audience didn’t seem to care though.

Mainly, they seemed pleased to hear the album given a mature reworking, and to see a legend on one of her rare UK appearances. The evening ended with an encore of straight country numbers. “Boulder to Birmingham” and “Pancho and Lefty” were much as expected. But the last two were even nicer. The sound quality may have been up and down all night, but “Calling My Children Home” and “My Songbird” just sounded bewitching. 


Overleaf: Watch a video of Emmylou Harris performing "Wrecking Ball":

These days 67-year-old Emmylou Harris, with her long silver hair not only looks Southern gothic but sounds it too


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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