Classic Album Review-Emmylou Harris “Blue Kentucky Girl”
She’s been called one of the most influential country music artists of the 1970’s and 1970’s, while her voice has been called “angelic”. Both accurate descriptions, in my opinion, of Emmylou Harris. Just as I recently described Ray Price, Emmylou is not so much of a singer as she is a stylist. She sings as no one before her, or after her, for that matter. And like Price, each album is not just a collection of songs, it’s a fine painting, crafted on a circular 12” canvas. Some albums you listen to; hers, you experience.
The subject of today’s Classic Album Review is Emmylou’s 1979 Warner Brothers release “Blue Kentucky Girl”. Released in April, it was her seventh album release, and somewhat surprisingly, her lowest charting, to that point, outside of her 1969 small label debut. “Blue Kentucky Girl” would only peak at number forty-three on the country bestseller list, despite containing three top ten hits.
The album begins with a hard-driving version of the Willie Nelson-written “Sister’s Coming Home”. A great beat and outstanding arrangement, however, the song, itself, is not one of Willie’s stronger compositions, and Emmylou seems to struggle a bit, in a couple of places. A very ordinary track, at best.
On the other hand, “Beneath Still Waters” is anything but ordinary. A song that had been around since the mid-1960’s, it had been a minor top forty country hit for Diana Trask in 1970, but became a country standard under Emmylou’s guidance. The song would become a number one hit for Emmylou in the spring, 1980. An outstanding ballad that is a perfect match for her vocals, it is easily the best cut on this disc, as well as one of my favorite Emmylou Harris tracks, overall. I thought it was a great record thirty years ago, and I still think it is, today. By the way, the song was written by legendary songwriter Dallas Frazier.
“Rough And Rocky” is a decent track. Mid tempo, with a touch of Cajun added to it, for a bit of spice, it’s not a track that likely will stick out on this album, yet it’s good enough that you will listen.
The late Gram Parsons is credited to introducing Emmylou to country music, and Emmylou included one of his compositions to this album, “Hickory Wind”. I love how this track comes off, thanks to the mostly minimal arrangement, mixed with a vocal performance by Emmylou that has a lonely feel to it; perfect for this cut.
Side one ends with another of the album’s hit singles, a remake of the Drifters’ classic “Save The Last Dance For Me”. Whereas this song usually is performed in an up tempo beat, here, Emmylou turns it into a ballad, and the result is another of her best performances. The vocal is outstanding, the arrangement is perfect, as well. This track will have you hooked as soon as the mandolin starts the intro.
Side two opens with another ear-opener; “Sorrow In The Wind”. An intimate track, featuring Emmylou, a guitar, some harmony (provided by Sharon & Cheryl White), and a fiddle. What a beautiful result! The album’s Hidden Gem is right here.
Next, Emmylou gives us a nice version of the Leon Payne-written “They’ll Never Take His Love From Me”. Many will be familiar with the Hank Williams version of this song, recorded as “They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me”. I call it a nice track, because Emmylou does an excellent version of a song that admittedly, I never really cared about one way or the other.
One of the first country music acts that Emmylou Harris was turned on to, was The Louvin Brothers. Here, Emmylou pays homage to Charlie and Ira, with a version of their “Everytime You Leave”. Another outstanding ballad, right here, thanks to some of Emmylou’s vest vocal work, mixed with one of best compositions from the Louvins. This is a track you want to listen to again and again.
The title track was one of Loretta Lynn’s early hits, and would become a top ten hit for Emmylou Harris, as well. If I had to choose between the two, I guess I would go with Loretta’s, but barely, as Emmylou’s version is nearly as good. It’s another great track for this album.
The album wraps with a track from the pen of another great songwriter, and former member of Emmylou Harris’ band, Rodney Crowell. “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues” is a song that never achieved any kind of hit status, though it was a single at different times for Lynn Anderson, as well as Waylon Jennings & Johnny Cash; however, it’s still a track that is recognized by many, due to it’s numerous versions, not the least of which is this one. In fact, of the versions I’ve heard, I would rank Emmylou Harris’ as one of, if not the best. The song is perfectly suited for her, and as it is with the rest of this album, the arrangement is perfect. It also included backing vocals from Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt.
This album is still readily available in numerous forms. First, there is not one, but two variations available on CD. The first, is exactly the same as the original album issue, which I saw priced as low as $6. The second version, which is also available as an MP3 download, included two additional tracks, not on the original issue; “Cheatin’ Is” (w/Glen Campbell) and “I Know An Ending When It Comes”. In addition, there are numerous used vinyl copies available, most in the $5 range, as well as a few cassettes and 8-tracks, as well.
As for the album’s Standout Track, there is no question “Beneath Still Waters” is it. Again, it’s arguably her best-ever recording. The almost equally outstanding “Sorrow In The Wind” gets my nod for the album’s Hidden Gem, while for me, the Weakest Track goes to “Sister’s Coming Home”. Very ordinary, to me, though it’s interesting to note that some reviews I read, after writing most of this one, gave the track glowing reviews.
While it may not have sold quite as well as her previous releases, it’s still an album that should be a part of your collection. Well crafted, hard country, with a tinge of bluegrass, folk, and rock. I rate this album a 4 out of 5.
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