WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
I'm a relatively recent fan of Emmylou Harris, and her albums Wrecking Ball and Red Dirt Girl find themselves in my CD player quite frequently. Those recent albums have an edgy, alternative feel—with an undercurrent of country—that appeals to this particular Denver boy. Finding a distinct appeal to such songs as Deeper Well and My Antonia, I decided to delve into Emmylou's discography and see whether anything older appealed.
Emmylou Harris: Producer's Cut contains 14 songs taken from seven of Emmylou's first eight albums for Reprise Records, as well as a rare duet with Johnny Cash titled Old Rugged Cross. The tracks were chosen by Harris and producer Brian Ahern. According to DVD Talk reader and Emmylou fan Jim Mullany, these recordings represent some of her greatest career-making performances. "At the time she made these recordings," Mullany says, "she was married to Ahern, who had a significant career as a producer. Her band personnel evolved from great studio musicians who became part of her road band, the Hot Band, including Rodney Crowell (with whom she cowrote many of her best early songs) and Tony Brown (who went on to head MCA Nashville), Albert Lee (not the English Albert Lee) and Glen D. Hardin, Hank Devito, and Ricky Skaggs."
Most of you, like Mullany, are probably more familiar with Harris's past work than I am. Emmylou's later, edgier work resonates more with me. According to Mullany, "the sonic uniqueness of Wrecking Ball and Red Dirt Girl brought out an interesting side of Emmylou, now that her voice has started to age and lose its higher registers." However, I'm convinced her music is changing for reasons above and beyond just the quality of her voice. I believe Emmylou is exploring deeper and darker territories in her writing and has embarked on a brave burst of exploration. Most of you can savor the sounds and emotions of these earlier, more traditionally country songs, but for me, I can't help but see them as stepping stones leading to the lofty place that Harris inhabits now.
Titled Emmylou Harris: Producer's Cut, this disc is a multichannel DVD-Audio retrospective of some of Harris's most famous work. One big drawback of this disc is that you can't fast-forward through any of the songs.
Here's the track listing:
1) If I Could Only Win Your Love
2) Boulder to Birmingham
3) One of These Days
4) Too Far Gone
5) Leaving Louisiana in Broad Daylight
6) Together Again
7) Tulsa Queen
8) Pancho and Lefty
9) Spanish Johnny
10) Beneath Still Waters
11) Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
12) The Last Cheater's Waltz
13) Sorrow in the Wind
14) Old Rugged Cross
HOW'S IT SOUND?
You can choose from a Dolby Digital surround mix, a Dolby stereo mix, and a DTS surround mix. All are first-rate, but the DTS track (after doing some on-the-fly switching) seemed to offer a bit more punch in the low end. To access the greatest quality advanced-resolution mixes, your DVD player must be able to play DVD-Audio. However, you can play this in any DVD player.
I was impressed by this surround mix. The front soundstage was impressively expansive and full, and when I closed my eyes, I could pinpoint the disparate components of the band. I could imagine Emmylou front and center, while the mandolin and banjo and drums occupied their distinct spaces. Periodically, a fiddle or harmonica or banjo would find its way to the rears, not in an overpowering way, but more in a subtle accompaniment to give the presentation that enveloping feeling.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
First up is a Lyrics Menu, which predictably gives you the words to all the included songs.
Next is a series of Photos that show Emmylou in the midst of performances as well as some staged, posed photos.
Next is a 27-minute Interview with Emmylou Harris and Brian Ahern. The bulk of the interview focuses on Brian Ahern, who remixed the original recordings for surround sound. The Emmylou portion is brief and is audio-only. Ahern talks about the challenges associated with each song.
Finally, you get a section of Credits.