on June 24, 2005
December 7, 1974 my friend Early and I went to see Leo Kottke at Minnesota Orchestra Hall. The opening act that night was an unknown girl singer named Emmylou Harris. We had no idea what to expect and little interest - we'd come to see Kottke. As soon as we saw Emmylou, we began to get interested and when she opened her mouth and started singing, we were completely and totally mesmerized. A voice like nothing we'd ever heard before. And, a voice that is still instantly identifiable.
Pieces Of The Sky came out early in 1975 and I was almost afraid to play it, afraid that it could never match what I remembered from that cold December night. But as soon as the needle hit the record, I knew that it was everything I remembered and more. "Bluebird Wine", "The Bottle Let Me Down", songs that really show that she can make a song move. "If I Could Only Win Your Love", the first of many Louvin Brothers songs that she exposed to a whole new audience. And my favorite, "Too Far Gone." Everything about the way "Too Far" is produced says that it should be a disaster. I mean, heavy strings, for Pete's sake? Instead, Emmylou makes both the song and the arrangement a masterpiece.
Since "Pieces", I've bought nearly all of Emmylou's works and have rarely been disappointed. I would urge anyone who doesn't own this disc, to get it immediately. It's a timeless piece of work that stands as well today as it did when it was released 30 years ago.
Thanks for all you've done for country music, Emmylou. I just wish that today's Nashville suits would go back and listen to this CD and and understand how beautiful three chords and the truth can sound. They - and we - need you more than ever.
I kid you not, this is pure country. But Emmylou has always had a huge non-country audience. There is something in her voice, in her delivery, that one has to like, regardless of genre.
I was a D.J. (among other duties) at a small radio station in Cottonwood, Arizona, when Emmy Lou came out with this, her first album. That was over 30 years ago, and this still stands as a classic.
Anybody listening to this album will have his or her favorites. These are mine:
"Too Far Gone", a soulful ballad in which emmylou's plaintive voice expresses a beauty, an integrity, which is still her trade mark.
"If I Could Only Win Your Love", which I believe was her first hit. Whatever, it sounds just as fresh to me as it did thirty-something years ago.
"Boulder To Birmingham" is another enduring favorite, expressing Emmy Lou's versatility and ability to evoke emotion.
It takes a truly great singer to take songs associated with other singers and present us with a worthwhile interpretation comparable in quality to the original. Merle Haggard's "Bottle Let Me Down" could've been written for her, her version being uniquely styled.
Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors" again illustrate her superb way of handling another's song. The current term of course is "cover", but in the case of these two songs, the term just doesn't seem to fit, IMHO.
I will quickly mention one cut which I consider a lesser one, but well worth noting, Lennon/McCartney's "For No One". Even at the very beginning, she showed off the diversity, the range of her talents.
This debut album is brought to a close with the rousing, yet poignant "Queen of the Silver Dollar", written by the great Shel Silverstein. Listen carefully, very carefully, and you will catch Linda Ronstadt's voice in the background.
All in all, as I said from the beginning, this is a classic album which is pure country, yet with an appeal to all musical tastes.
on December 10, 2003
Emmylou was a delightful discovery nearly 30 years ago, and her first album remains a joy. Before she started experimenting with different genres several albums down the road, before age took a toll on her voice and she adapted with grace, producing masterpieces like "Wrecking Ball", there was this pure clean gorgeous voice like no other. And there was a unique sound that hit the ground running here, with a perfect album in which every song was a solid winner.
This isn't today's "alt-country", and indeed it may well be more country than some of Emmylou's 21st-century fans are comfortable with. Back in the day, we hippie sorts had nothing to do with official country music, and the official world of country music would have nothing to do with Emmylou. She was nowhere near to moving to Nashville yet, and was played on the same FM stations that played rock music. Her music was a continuation of music we then put in the country-rock genre, which was considered every bit as cool as any other sort of rock in the early 70's. In a rock historian's book, maybe the driving force was Gram Parsons joining the Byrds and helping create their "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" album. But out in the real world, no one had heard of Gram Parsons, was unlikely to have heard more than a song or two from that album, and what brought country-rock into our worlds were later incarnations of the Byrds, Bob Dylan doing "Nashville Skyline", and lesser bands like New Riders of the Purple Sage or Commander Cody. Those are the sounds that primed us for the far more enduring music of Emmylou Harris.
Without denying Gram Parsons his due, he is known today largely because of the work Emmylou Harris started so brilliantly here. Some have said below that her covers of other people's songs were often superior to the originals, and I agree. I'll go a step farther and say that it's her covers of music that Parsons wrote or loved that not only put it on the map, but that made it sound good enough for it to acquire what eventually became a huge audience. I don't think that detracts from his talents, but it speaks to the beauty of her voice and the arrangements and production on this album and those that followed.
Listening to this CD decades later, it is striking how country it is, and hard to remember how easily we accepted this music in the rock world way back when. It's nearly as hard to imagine why her work wasn't accepted at the time by the country audience. And nowadays, when her voice is an entirely different sort of instrument, it's impossible to imagine why reviewers at the time thought her voice wasn't strong enough for a solo artist, and that she was better suited to being a backup singer. Though I was a huge fan, I felt there was some truth to the criticisms, and what drew me in were her soft, unspeakably sweet, angelic interpretations of slower songs. Tastes were just so different then. Compared to all the lovely and popular, but much-weaker, girlish voices of today's alt-country world, the Emmylou of the 70's belted songs out with a voice whose strength I had nearly forgotten. It is stunning to listen to today, after years of spending much more time with Wrecking Ball. Emmylou really rocked country long before "crossover" was invented.
This is probably an essential Emmylou album for anyone who is a fan of her 70's and 80's work. If you're browsing because you have a love affair with Wrecking Ball or later work, this may not be your cup of tea. To those of us who were there, this is the voice we loved doing the music we loved, and represents Emmylou at her peak - or, rather, one of her many peaks.
on February 26, 2004
1975's Pieces of the Sky was Emmylou Harris' major label debut. It is also part of Rhino's recent reissue of her first five Reprise albums.
Pieces of the Sky established a high standard that Harris maintained for years to come. Her blueprint included the assemblage of stellar musicians, among them the legendary guitarist James Burton who had earlier worked his magic on numerous recordings by Rick Nelson and Elvis Presley. Also, an extremely eclectic song selection, with new compositions such as "Bluebird Wine" (by her future Hot Band member Rodney Crowell) and Harris' own "Boulder To Birmingham," alongside covers of the Louvin Brother's "If I Could Only Win Your Love," Lennon & McCartney's "For No One" and Dolly Parton's "Coat Of Many Colors."
"Too Far Gone" (# 13 country) and "If I Could Only Win Your Love" (# 4 country, # 58 pop) were this album's singles. For these remastered Rhino reissues, they have also included two bonus tracks on each cd. The additions to Piece Of The Sky are a pair of Dallas Frazier compositions, "Hank And Lefty" and "California Cottonfields" whose ultra-traditional sound fits in nicely with the rest of the original album.
on September 26, 2004
Back in the early seventies when my friends and I were sorta hippie, sorta bluesy, sorta blue-grass...all long-haired and raggamuffinish...we chanced to attend a Merle Haggard concert
(imagine, if you will, 4 california not-quite-post-hippie teenagers, rockin out to the strains of "We don't smoke marijuana in...")...the opening act was a tiny little woman with a HUGE voice...thus we were introduced to Emmylou Harris.
After that, every time she came out with an album (umm-hmm, vinyl) we got it. The harmonies alone are priceless.
On the morning of 9-11, as i sat watching to horror show that was the news, and calling friends just to touch base with fellow humans...the words to Pieces of the Sky kept filling my ears:
"what if pieces of the sky were falling
in your neighbors yard
but not on you?"
on May 25, 2000
Pieces of the Sky wasn't so much the beginning of the road for Emmylou Harris as the ramp onto the interstate. In her major-label debut, Emmylou built on her experiences as both coffehouse folkie and harmonizing sidekick to country-rock guru Gram Parsons, while managing to create a springboard for the traditional country sound that marked the rest of her output during the '70s. This is a remarkably diverse album. "Bluebird Wine," with its dancing fiddle riffs, is an otherworldly blend of bluegrass, honkytonk, and rural funk. Danny Flowers' cryptic antiwar ballad "Before Believing" captures Emmylou's brittle, haunting soprano at its most ethereal. Emmylou shines on barroom rockers such as Merle Haggard's "Bottle Let Me Down" and the late Shel Silverstein's classic "Queen of the Silver Dollar," but on Lennon and McCartney's quietly lilting "For No One" she is no less impressive. Her renditions of the Louvin brothers' "If I Could Only Win Your Love" and on "Sleepless Nights," a tear-jerker penned by Boudeleaux and Felice Bryant, find her paying homage to the songwriters her mentor Parsons had taught her to love. And her signature song "Boulder to Birmingham," a requiem to Parsons, never fails to produce goosebumps. All in all, this is an enormously impressive album that begs to be listened to over and over and over. . . .
on December 27, 1999
Among my countless CDs of varied musical genres, I consider Emmylou Harris' Pieces Of The Sky as one of my all-time favorites. This is the first of her albums that introduced me to this sweet-voiced singer and since then, I've been hooked!
One can't help but be touched listening to Emmylou Harris' performance on this album. Her heart-rending reading of her own composition, the tender 'Boulder to Birhingham', Merle Haggard's honky tonkish 'Bottle Let Me Down', Dolly Parton's autobiographical 'Coat of Many Colors', and Paul McCartney's heartbreaking 'For No One' leave nothing to be desired. Her touching and heartfelt interpretation of such gems like 'Too Far Gone' and 'Sleepless Nights' are not bad either.
And if you think Emmylou Harris is a one-dimensional singer who is limited to interpreting slow paced songs, then you've got a surprise coming! Listen to her uptempo and danceable interpretations of 'Queen Of The Silver Dollar' and 'If I Could Only Win Your Love' and you'll know what I mean.
Dim down the lights, stretch out your legs on the sofa and program your CD player to play Emmylou Harris' soothing and slow numbers. I'm not sure if you'll ever have a sleepless night!
Although this wasn't my first introduction to Emmylou (first hearing her harmonize with Linda Ronstadt on her HEART LIKE A WHEEL album) it was my first time I heard her singing solo. It was because of this album that Emmylou has remained my favorite musical artist for over 25 years now. Listening to it after all this time gives me the same thrill as it did in 1975 when I first heard it and knew I had to see this singer in concert ASAP, which I did that same year.
My favorite cut, is without a doubt, BOULDER TO BIRMINGHAM since it's also my all-time favorite Emmylou song. My least favorite is probably FOR NO ONE and perhaps for no particular reason other than I never was a big Beatles fan and this always reminds me of the Beatles. I do like THE BOTTLE LET ME DOWN but then I'm a big Merle Haggard fan so there you go.
I love Herb Pedersen's harmonies on IF I CAN ONLY WIN YOUR LOVE, making it another favorite cut. BEFORE BELIEVING is also a favorite as is SLEEPLESS NIGHTS. The others, BLUEBIRD WINE, COAT OF MANY COLORS, QUEEN OF THE SILVER DOLLAR although enjoyable fit somewhere in the middle. TOO FAR GONE fits somewhere between the favorites and the middle.
What strikes me most on this early album is the way her voice hasn't changed that much. Her voice is so pristine in this album and although I do note a grittiness in her voice not there previously, her voice is still strong and so distinctive.
Ranking of this on my favorite Emmylou CDs? Probably #1. Probably because of BOULDER TO BIRMINGHAM and IF I CAN ONLY WIN YOUR LOVE but because it struck me so emotionally the first time I ever heard it. And also likely because the first two of three times I saw Emmylou in concert this was the only album she had out so these songs are indelibly etched in my brain. Anyway, this album is a MUST if you're a true Emmylou fan.
on October 13, 2004
This is one of the best debut albums I've heard. It would establish a style that would continue to evolve over the course of her career. The album is eclectic and achingly beautiful. The emotion is so raw and captivating. She does a great cover of The Beatles "For No One", the Louvin Brothers' "If I Could Only Win Your Love" (a hit for her), and of course one of the most stirring pieces of music she's ever recorded, the song "Bolder to Birmingham", a tribute to her mentor Gram Parsons (she puts her stamp on a lot of his songs throughout her career). A must have!
on June 21, 2013
This is a beautiful album but especially the song Boulder to Birmingham. This song transcends - her voice is pure, sweet and so very sad. The song has become my mourning anthem for my late husband. Everything else on this album is stellar - Ms. Harris has a voice of a rare songbird. Must have CD.