Harris at top of her game
Harris at top of her game

CONCERT
Emmylou Harris
Perth Concert Hall
REVIEW: RAY PURVIS

Announcing that she'd travelled a long way from Nashville so it was going to be a long concert, the silver-haired queen of country music Emmylou Harris was in top form as she launched her Australian tour before an appreciative sold-out crowd at the Perth Concert Hall on Tuesday night.

Wearing a white crochet top, slit leggings and cowboy boots, her voice remains remarkably strong and full of passion four decades into her career at the age of 65. It's a rich and complex instrument that effortlessly glides from a whisper to full-throated roar. She truly possesses the voice of an angel.

As promised, the long, far ranging set traversed a multitude of roots music styles from country, traditional, folk, gospel to bluegrass. Many of the songs, such as the lively opener Six White Cadillacs and Evangeline, Red Dirt Girl and The Pearl were from her own deep catalogue of music.

As expected, she mixed in a wide array of covers spanning generations of songwriters including Gillian Welch's Orphan Girl, George Jones' One Of These Days, Townes van Zandt's Pancho and Lefty, the Carter Family's Hello Stranger and Delbert McClinton's Two More Bottles of Wine.

Her versatile five-piece backing band, the Red Dirt Boys - Bryan Owings and Chris Donohue on drums and bass, keyboardist Phil Madeira who switched to accordion, Virginian bluegrass prodigy Rickie Simpkins on fiddle, mandolin, vocal harmonies and electric guitarist Will Kimbrough - were outstanding.

The only time she put down her enormous acoustic guitar all night was to join Madeira and Simpkins around the microphone for a spellbinding a cappella reading of the traditional gospel song Bright Morning Stars from her 1987 album Angel Band.

Harris performed spirited versions of her mentor, the late Gram Parsons' rave ups Luxury Liner and Wheels, later paying homage with the heartfelt ballad The Road, from her latest album Hard Bargain.

In a night full of highlights, the intimate Prayer in Open D, accompanied only by finger-picked guitar, and the rocker Born To Run were standouts.

As was her haunting version of My Name is Emmett Till, which she wrote about the murder of a 14-year old African-American boy for speaking to a white woman in the 50s, raised goose bumps on the back of the neck.

Harris promised a return visit after the release of her duet album with Rodney Crowell in February next year. The standing ovation at the end of the show is proof she is very welcome here any time.

The West Australian

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