Thursday, February 19, 2015

pieces of the sky

Emmylou Harris found a saving grace by straightening out her crooked way of thinkin' and hit her stride by telling everything with honky tonk humor, too far gone heartbreak, and a hot band.    She had given up her drama scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to pursue music in the folk scene of New York City's Greenwich Village, where she met and married another songwriter Tom Slocum.  Her debut album 'Gliding Bird' was produced by Ray Ellis for Jubilee Records, which went bankrupt soon after its release in 1969.  She and Slocum divorced and she left with their newborn daughter Hallie to the suburbs of Washington D.C. for what Harris considers:   "a tough time. I was living on food stamps and working six nights a week in clubs, trying to support my daughter. I had pretty much given up on the idea of 'making it' by that point."

She was recommended by Chris Hillman, who had seen one of her performances in 1971, to his former bandmate Gram Parsons; and she toured as part of his Fallen Angels Band, as well as collaborating on his albums 'GP' and  'Grievous Angel' before Parsons' died of an overdose just before the release of his second album.  Harris remembers:   "[Gram] never treated me like the chick singer; he was very gracious, a real Southern gentleman...I didn't get his music; I didn't quite get his singing either. I had always sung folk music and I saw country music as kind of hokey. So at first I just saw what we were doing as an opportunity to make some money singing on a record. But as we began singing these harmonies it seemed like we sounded good together and I began to appreciate what he was doing...We had elements of being a couple through a musical relationship that became very intense. I think I kept a little bit of a distance, though. I mean, Gram was married and, though I wasn't that much of a prude, I probably didn't want to mess with that. Toward the end, I couldn't really deny it any more. I knew what I felt for him, and I just assumed that that was something that was going to happen, never thinking that we would never have the chance. When I got the call that he had died, I was just so shocked...I felt I couldn't possibly stop. Because that was the only way I could deal with it. I had no idea where I was going to get to, or end up, but all these extraordinary things came together in just the right way to put me in a place where I could actually realise whatever it was I was trying to do. Mainly, I wanted to carry on with Gram's music. That was what pushed me forward...I had just assumed I would go forward making music with Gram until whenever. Then, when it was cut so short, I had to move forward on my own. It was hard, and a very bleak time for me. My daughter was with my parents and I hardly saw her. I didn't have experience making records, my education was incomplete and I'd lost my teacher, my mentor. In the end, I was very fortunate in the community of people I found – and who found me – who helped put me on the right path. And also that they understood I was grieving and was in a very vulnerable place."

'Pieces of the Sky' features Emmylou Harris on vocals, and acoustic guitar;   with producer and engineer Brian Ahern on acoustic guitar, high-strung guitar, super 400 acoustic guitar, and bass;    James Burton on electric guitar, gut-string guitar, and dobro;   Glen D. Hardin on piano, electric piano, and string arrangements;   Nick DeCaro on string arrangements;   Bernie Leadon on acoustic guitar, bass, banjo, dobro, and backing vocals;   Herb Pedersen on acoustic guitar, 12-string guitar, banjo, and backing vocals;   Bill Payne on piano;   Bruce Archer on acoustic guitar;   Rick Cunha on acoustic guitar and high-strung guitar;   Amos Garrett on electric guitar;   Ben Keith and Danny Pendleton on pedal steel;   Richard Greene on fiddle;   Byron Berline on fiddle and mandolin;   Ricky Skaggs on fiddle and viola;   Duke Bardwell, Tom Guidera, and Ray Pohlman on bass;   Mark Cuff and Ron Tutt on drums;  and Linda Ronstadt and Fayssoux Starling on backing vocals.  The sessions were also engineered by Chris Skene, Paul Skene, Fran Tate, and Stuart Taylor.  

Harris reveals:  "I had been signed to Warner/Reprise. They brought a great team together of a very, very successful producer, Brian Ahern, who had all those great Anne Murray records. And I was, you know, a fledgling artist. Basically I was signed because I had gotten a bit of notoriety singing on two Gram Parsons records, Gram who had died in 1973, and I was signed in '74.    And so, you know, everyone's concerned, you know, we've got to get the material, got to get it right. So I went up to Toronto where Brian lived and to listen to material and pick material. And I didn't really know what I wanted to do, but I found out right away that I knew what I didn't like.   And Brian played me a whole day's worth. We went a whole day through a pile of cassettes, few people remember cassettes, of material that just did not do anything for me. And he kind of smiled, and he said, well, he said, I've got one more thing, and I haven't listened to this yet. It's been sent to me, a writer that I've signed who I've not heard but on the recommendation of someone whose opinion I respect.   So for the first time Brian Ahern and I listened to the voice and the songs of Rodney Crowell. And the first song that was on the tape was "Bluebird Wine." And I just knew that we had struck gold, that there was just something in his voice, in the music and the energy that was there."  

'Pieces of the Sky' went gold, charting at number seventy-six in Canada, forty-five in the US, and seven on the US country album chart. 

"Bluebird Wine"

"If I Could Only Win Your Love"  was a breakthrough hit, going to number fifty-eight on the US pop chart, four on the US country chart, and number one on the Canadian country chart.

"Boulder to Birmingham" was written in memory of Gram Parsons.

I don't want to hear a love song
I got on this airplane just to fly
And I know there's life below
But all that it can show me
Is the prairie and the sky

And I don't want to hear a sad story
Full of heartbreak and desire
The last time I felt like this
It was in the wilderness and the canyon was on fire
And I stood on the mountain in the night and I watched it burn
I watched it burn, I watched it burn.

I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
I would hold my life in his saving grace.
I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham
If I thought I could see, I could see your face.

Well you really got me this time
And the hardest part is knowing I'll survive.
I have come to listen for the sound
Of the trucks as they move down
Out on ninety five
And pretend that it's the ocean
Coming down to wash me clean, to wash me clean
Baby do you know what I mean

I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
I would hold my life in his saving grace.
I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham
If I thought I could see, I could see your face.

'Pieces of the Sky' 
full album:

"Bluebird Wine" (Rodney Crowell) – 3:18
"Too Far Gone" (Billy Sherrill) – 4:05
"If I Could Only Win Your Love" (Charlie Louvin, Ira Louvin) – 2:36
"Boulder to Birmingham" (Emmylou Harris, Bill Danoff) – 3:33
"Before Believing" (Danny Flowers) – 4:44
"The Bottle Let Me Down" (Merle Haggard) – 3:16
"Sleepless Nights" (Felice and Boudleaux Bryant) – 3:25
"Coat of Many Colors" (Dolly Parton) – 3:42
"For No One" (John Lennon–Paul McCartney) – 3:40
"Queen of the Silver Dollar" (Shel Silverstein) – 5:14

"Hank and Lefty" (Dallas Frazier, Doodle Owens) – 2:50
"California Cottonfields" (Dallas Frazier, Earl Montgomery) – 2:47

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