SPYBOY, Emmylou Harris
Anyone who caught her at Lilith Fair this summer knows that
Harris has hit a musical sweet spot. Spyboy, culled from recent
concert tours, looks back across her quarter-century as an
alternative country pioneer and finds more than nostalgia. Harris
and her nimble band revitalize some of her best oldies--Love
Hurts, Boulder to Birmingham--with an assurance that makes them
sound fresh. Spyboy has the kind of loose, effortless charm that
most musicians don't trust anymore. At 51, Harris has tapped into
her own well of inspiration, and what's flowing out is something
you don't hear much on records: wisdom.
--David E. Thigpen
Emmylou Harris is not only an influential figure in country music history, but she continues to expand on her legend by producing innovative music. With this (SPYBOY is also the name of her band) live disc, Harris revisits many of her past tunes. Early classics such as "Love Hurts" (on which co-producer Buddy Miller takes Gram Parsons' duet role) and "Boulder to Birmingham" do not stray far from the original. Others, such as "Born to Run" and Rodney Crowell's "Ain't Living Long" have a harder edge than before. The influence of Daniel Lanois, who produced Harris' 1995 Grammy winner "Wrecking Ball," is in evidence on several tracks. Harris and guitarist Miller are joined by Lanois' usual rhythm section of drummer Brady Blade and bassist Daryl Johnson. Some arrangements are reminiscent of Lanois' work with the band U2 ("Where Will I Be" and "Deeper Well"), and the only song Harris performs here she had not previously recorded is Lanois' "The Maker."
Other highlights include the Parsons/Chris Hillman composition "Wheels" and the a cappella "Calling My Children Home."
Harris' voice remains as engaging as ever, and she seems equally at ease with traditional country arrangements or on more experimental tunes. This will certainly satisfy fans of Harris and create anticipation for her future endeavors.
- Robert Wooldridge
Since stepping out on her own after Gram Parsons' death in 1973, Emmylou Harris has fronted one terrific ensemble after another. The latest is Spyboy, which includes the muscular rhythm section of drummer Brady Blade, bassist Daryl Johnson, and guitarist Buddy Miller, who produced "Spyboy," the album, with Harris.
The live set takes its cue from the atmospheric approach of the 1996 Daniel Lanois-produced "Wrecking Ball" -- Lanois is thanked for "blueprints and the road map" -- and reaches back to reinterpret watershed moments in Harris' career, from Boudleaux Bryant's "Love Hurts" to Rodney Crowell's "I Ain't Living Long Like This" to her own "Prayer in Open D." The result is one of Harris' best albums: She sounds tougher than ever before, with the angelic heartache intact.
-- DAN DeLUCA
August 16, 1998 Sunday, CHICAGOLAND FINAL
BYLINE: Greg Kot.
Harris' once-pristine voice has acquired some worldweary wrinkles, which give it a heartbreaking power--evident as she revisits one of the cornerstones of her career, "Love Hurts." But it's Harris' Spyboy band that's the story on this live album. Buddy Miller, who is Nashville's answer to U2 guitarist The Edge, and the New Orleans rhythm section of Brady Blade and Daryl Johnson reveal new colors in Harris' recent music, which veers even further away from country and toward a mysticism that Van Morrison might recognize.
Look out, Ani DiFranco -- country-rock doyenne Emmylou Harris is right behind you and gaining. With her new indie label, Eminent, and a hot band featuring Buddy Miller on guitar and the New Orleans rhythm section of bassist Daryl Johnson and drummer Brady Blade, Harris offers a powerful live set that captures past glories like ``Love Hurts'' and ``Boulder to Birmingham'' while promising new directions with a rich, percussive take on ``Deeper Well'' and an expansive version of Daniel Lanois' ``The Maker.'' The set makes plain her high- harmonized country roots but burns with a passion for rock that she has rarely exhibited.
-- Daniel Durchholz