Emmylou Harris – Pieces of the Sky

Alt="Emmylou Harris vinyl record Pieces of the Sky from 1976"

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

Paris is the most atmospheric of cities. The sights, the people, the restaurants and cafes are evocative of memorable travel and times past. This is a small selection of my photography taken over several visits and rendered in black and white. Please enjoy these and my books on Paris and France are available on Amazon.

Alt="Emmylou Harris vinyl record Pieces of the Sky from 1976"
Emmylou Harris – Pieces of the Sky

Emmylou Harris – Pieces of the Sky 1975

You probably like me bought a music paper every week. I had a standing order for the New Musical Express with my local newsagent, run by a couple of elderly, strait laced ladies. Now the NME had excellent reviews that we tended to treat as gospel. It was validatory to read a great review of an artist you admired, spent money on even. But, if they rubbished a favourite artist then that was hard to take. One time when I picked up my weekly copy the lady in the shop asked me if my mother knew I was buying this scurrilous trash. It must be said that the NME had sort of deviated from simply covering music and had become a forum for alternative lifestyle and a possible revolution. Still, the reviews were always good. However, I thought it best to switch to Melody Maker for a while.

The point of this rambling introduction is that although I put a lot of store by the reviews, they were only to validate what I thought I already knew. But there was one occasion when they prompted me to buy an album by an artist I had never heard, a leap into the unknown. NME had for some time been extolling the virtues of Emmylou Harris. Emmylou was coming out from the sadness of the tragic death of her mentor Gram Parsons, needing all the help she could get. Her record company put together probably the finest band on the planet to support her and the music press were willing her on. Her first album after her time with Gram Parsons was ‘Pieces of the Sky’. The review proclaimed it a masterpiece by an artist that you MUST listen to. It seemed that never in the history of popular music had such a voice been heard, such a band played together – you HAD to buy this album. They wore my resistance down. I always on my lunch break made the trek to Ames record store, almost expecting them to feed me as I was in so often. I would look at this album cover and ponder as to whether I should take the plunge and buy it. From the reviews I should like it – but would I? Would it just be that brand of country music that was either lots of YeeHaw or slushy sentimental gloop? Or was it as they said, something completely different, a reinvention of a genre, a faithful legacy from what Parsons had started. Only one way to find out.

Alt="Vinyl disk of the album Pieces of the Sky by Emmylou Harris 1975"
Emmylou Harris Pieces of the Sky Vinyl

The first thing that strikes you about this album is the cover. It is loaded with sentiment. Emmylou looks pensive, alone, wistful on the front. She is lost in thought – what would Gram think of this album and why isn’t he here? Above the photo is maybe a nod to Gram – an angel looking over her as she starts on her musical path alone. On the reverse she is dreamlike in a flowing light dress. Emmylou is in the desert, reminiscent of the scene of her unhappiness and the loss of her dreams. Was she there as the fire raged in the canyon? As James Taylor said ‘This is not a time for levity’. It is a heart-breaking cover, but does she move on with the music?

The reverse of the cover shows the fantastic range of musicians that help her launch her solo career. Glen D Hardin, James Burton, Ben Keith, Bernie Leadon, Linda Ronstadt and on it goes. This must be a great album and it is. A true masterpiece and a platform on which her stellar career was built.

Looking back this album has not aged one jot and although biased as Emmylou is one of my very favourite artists, I defy anyone to not enjoy this. Having said that it is not all enjoyment in a light-hearted sense. There is a theme here and the sadness that enveloped her comes through in the song choices – you will be moved as well as entertained.

The standout track is the one Emmylou wrote – ‘Boulder to Birmingham’. So good is this that you are surprised that is the only self-penned track, it would be some years before Emmylou had the confidence in her song writing to express herself on record more often. ‘Boulder to Birmingham’ is one of the saddest songs ever written. It makes no concessions to disguising that it is about Gram Parsons, specifically his death, the events around it and Emmylou’s searing pain. Her great friend Linda Ronstadt recalled that Emmylou was in ‘howling pain’ at this time. I encourage you to seek out her live version from 2016 from a concert celebrating her career – she is older, wiser, her voice is deeper, but she is still full of the raw emotion contained in this song – still as powerful as the day it was written. The repeated line about walking from Boulder to Birmingham – if only she could see Gram’s face is heart wrenching. The distance literally is 2174 kilometres so maybe that gives a sense of depth to her pain. She doesn’t want to hear a love song, but did she stand on the mountain on the fateful night of Gram’s impromptu funeral? I hope looking back Emmylou appreciates just how wonderful this song is – the poetry is as good as anything ever written. When she muses that the hardest part is simply that she knows she will survive you find it astonishing that she can even sing this. What deep emotion she reaches.  

Then she concludes by asking us if we know what she means. Well – No, Emmylou I don’t. I am trying but I cannot get close to feeling the depth of sorrow that you do but I am really trying to do so. What I am grateful for is that this incredible piece of writing gives us that chance to feel emotions that we hope we will never have to find but if we do then you have prepared us. One of the great songs of all time.

In a sense this song could render the rest of the album meaningless, but it doesn’t. The songs are carefully chosen and complimentary. Upbeat songs Bluebird Wine, Bottle let me Down and Queen of the Silver Dollar show just how wonderfully joyous her live shows will be with the ‘Hot Band’. ‘If I Could only win your Love’, the Louvin classic is simply gorgeous, her duet with Herb Peterson showing the effect Emmylou’s voice has when paired with a male counterpart. Still one of my favourite songs. Resonating on into the future collaborations is her perfect take on Dolly Parton’s ‘Coat of many Colours’. Friendship with other artists was something Emmylou needed, and she made and retained these friendships all her life as she is one of the most loved artists today.

It would be a couple of years before I first saw her in concert. This was at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England. Despite having seen scores of concerts over the years of the greatest of artists, this concert with the ‘Hot Band’ is THE one I would love to see again in that impossible time travel journey. What a night. Possibly the finest band ever put together, and they were put together, to make sure Emmylou got the best possible chance to succeed. The mixture of up-tempo country-rock that shook the old hall to the soaring, heartfelt vocals of Emmylou on the slower, sadder numbers was irresistible. You knew you were watching a lady who would be one of the greats of not just Country music but music, just music. So it proved. This album is the start and if you are for some strange reason unfamiliar with Emmylou’s work then please start here – and carry on with the peerless Emmylou Harris.  

Rear of the cover for Pieces of the Sky

Please enjoy my Travel books – LINK TO YOUR COUNTRY : https://bit.ly/bookneal

Paris is the most atmospheric of cities. The sights, the people, the restaurants and cafes are evocative of memorable travel and times past. This is a small selection of my photography taken over several visits and rendered in black and white. Please enjoy these and my books on Paris and France are available on Amazon.

Alt="French travel book series and Collioure harbour photo"
My French Travel Book series and New book Off the Autoroute

Published by Neal Atherton

My passion is writing about travel and particularly French travel. I have traveled extensively in France and wine and food has always featured on my travels and now in my books. My friends always await our return from France with the latest new finds from the vineyards and I was more than happy to keep sampling. I am from Lancashire in the north of England but have now relocated to Somerset (nearer to France) and able to enjoy devoting my time to writing and new discoveries. France came late to me as a destination, in fact so conservative was my travel upbringing that it was a long time before I even ventured to Cornwall. I have more than made up for the slow start and have enjoyed helping many others with their travel plans to France and especially to Paris and Provence. I have written a series of four books on France - Three are now on Amazon:THE FIRST TIME WE SAW PARIS about our first steps in French Travel, THYME FOR PROVENCE our discovery of that glorious region and the people and places we met and discovered, A DREAM OF PARIS a personal memoir of our times in Paris with friends. France has been fun, we have been burgled on our very first arrival, we discovered the best cafe that changed our travel lives on the very next day, we learnt about French wine, we escaped from the most horrendous gite, we found the best of gites, B & B's and people, we laughed and cried with dear friends in Paris, I was hosed down by a crazy owner to cool me down in Provence, our breakfast in a remote village was served by the French army, we stepped totally out of our comfort zone and discovered the best of French culture. The experiences are varied and many and please come with me as I retell the stories and my footsteps are there to follow. I am also writing about ancestry and genealogy and my first book about our incredible family story themed around war and the military is now on Amazon - A BULLET FOR LIFE. I love the English game of cricket, golf, soccer, photography, walking and cooking. Oh, and travel of course.

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