Review: Emmylou Harris at Vector

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 09:33 19/11/2012
Emmylou Harris
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GOLDEN OLDIE: Emmylou Harris.

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There was a terrifying moment as Emmylou Harris began her show that she was going to play up as the Vera Lynn of the baby boomers.

No White Cliffs of Dover, but plenty of the songs that made her famous in the 70s and still mark her out as one of the finest voices of a generation.

With an audience of now advanced boomers at a cut-down Vector, she started with some of the old standards. The brilliant clear voice was still there but there was not a lot of innovation in them.

Same stuff you get on old CDs, although the audience was happy enough.

It wasn't until about a third of the way into the show, Harris launched into newer material and reflected the brilliance that has kept her centre stage since the late 60s.

The re-election of Barack Obama plainly struck Harris as a moment to reflect; she is the original white girl from Alabama but she hailed "an extraordinary black man" who leads her country. And she marked it with a soulful and true ballad, My name is Emmett Till:

I was born a black boy / My name is Emmett Till / Walked this earth for 14 years / One night I was killed / For speaking to a woman / Whose skin was white as dough / That's a sin in Mississippi / But how was I to know?

It was here we saw the brilliance of Harris, the story teller and voice who defines America, and human values.

At 65, she worries she that she might be obsessed with death, and then she sang a recent song honouring a friend and singer, Kate McGarrigle (who, with sister Anna, sang the traditional songs of America). Harris was with her when she died, and the song was poignant and powerful.

She treated the audience with a brilliant piece of blue grass cappella; she could have given away a few of the golden oldies and sung more of them.

Her encore was largely predictable - she admitted it but added it was nice to be invited back. Her 1975 classic Bolder to Birmingham closed out her show, but the penultimate piece was Pancho and Lefty, which, while she did not write, became a hit for her - and Willy Nelson.

Harris might have wanted to sing some more, but she's been on a long tour, and as she sang in Pancho: Lefty, he can't sing the blues / All night long like he used to...

EMMYLOU HARRIS

WHERE: Vector Arena

WHEN: November 18

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