Emmylou Harris

The Very Best of Emmylou Harris: Heartaches & Highways

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Emmylou Harris is an artist whose body of work is so consistently strong one could almost pull 20 songs at random from her catalog, string them together, and end up with a pretty listenable disc -- which suggests that the real choices in putting together a "best of Emmylou" album has as much to do with what not to include as what should be on hand. Harris herself helped compile The Very Best of Emmylou Harris: Heartaches & Highways, and while the album certainly doesn't avoid Harris' chart successes, she seems less interested in creating a definitive hits collection than in tracing her journey from the sweet, sad-voiced girl who sang with Gram Parsons to the gifted and thoughtful artist who has lately crafted such mid-career masterpieces as Wrecking Ball and Red Dirt Girl. While the album isn't sequenced in a strictly chronological fashion, the results faithfully trace Harris' subtle but clear stylistic evolution while also offering plenty of evidence that she's perhaps the most naturally gifted song stylist to emerge in country music since the 1970s, able to swing from the honky tonk spirit of "Two More Bottles of Wine" to the rueful losers tale of "Pancho and Lefty" to the gospel passion of "Calling My Children Home" without missing a step. Her superb taste in collaborative musicians, songwriters, and duet partners is also clearly evident throughout, and while the surfaces of later tracks such as "Orphan Girl" and "Michelangelo" may have a different feel, the depth and clarity of Harris' voice and the singular beauty of her creative vision lend this material all the commonality one could need. (And the album's one new track, "The Connection," suggests there's plenty more where all this came from.) If you're looking for an introduction to Emmylou Harris' broad and remarkable body of work, The Very Best of Emmylou Harris: Heartaches & Highways is a strong starting point, and if you simply want to hear 75 minutes of superb music, this fills the bill on that score as well.

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