Review – Emmylou Harris – ‘Ramble in Music City: The Lost Concert’

We’re not making nearly enough of a fuss about how lucky we are that we’re hurtling through the void of space on a ball of rock that we get to share with the ravishing Emmylou Harris. We dote all the time on Dolly, Loretta, Willie Nelson and the like. But I’m not sure we should be any less enamored with Emmylou.

The career of Emmylou Harris has really helped define the borders of country music. She was born in Birmingham, Alabama, but came up playing folk music in Washington D.C. She rose to national prominence singing harmonies with Gram Parsons, but launched her solo career as a staunch traditionalist. Later in her career, Emmylou would embrace the cutting edge of progressive roots music with projects like Wrecking Ball and its live equivalent Spyboy. And then for another stint, she assembled the best damn bluegrass outfit that could be found, and leaned into the roots of country music like few others were at the time.

1990 is when Emmylou Harris chose to retire her electrified Hot Band that had backed her for some 15 years, and formed The Nash Ramblers—an exclusively acoustic troupe consisting of Randall Stewart on acoustic guitar, mandolin, and vocals, Al Perkins on dobro, banjo, vocals, Roy Huskey Jr. on bass, Larry Atamanuik on drums, and of course the incomparable Sam Bush on fiddle and mandolin.

Then before making any recordings, the band hit the road for months, refining their chops and a repertoire of Emmylou Harris songs, as well as Gospel and bluegrass covers. Salty and road tested, the Nash Ramblers made their official Nashville debut at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center on September 28, 1990, which was professionally recorded.

But the recording was eventually shelved and overlooked. In late April, early May of the following year, Emmylou and her Nash Ramblers would play a now legendary residency at the Mother Church of Country Music—The Ryman Auditorium, and at a time when The Ryman had been virtually abandoned, and had fallen into somewhat of a state of disrepair after the Grand Ole Opry relocated across town to the Grand Ole Opry House.

That concert is not only given credit for helping to revitalize the legendary concert hall, it resulted in the 1992 release At The Ryman. The 16-track album is considered by many to be a definitive live album both from Emmylou Harris, and from the Ryman Auditorium. Soon the live recording from the Tennessee Performing Arts Center the year previous was all but forgotten.

So the next question some might have is, what could this new release issued from Nonesuch Records have on the legendary At The Ryman? Instead of acting like just another live recording from the Nash Ramblers era of Emmylou’s career that we’ve ostensibly heard already, this might go on to be the definitive one. There is no overlap in the track list of At The Ryman, and this recently-unveiled 23-track album.

With great recording quality, excellent vocals and instrument separation, and just enough crowd noise to help put you in the room, Ramble in Music City: The Lost Concert is yet another excellent live addition to the already stellar lineup of live albums from Emmylou Harris. It’s not just a nice little add-on to your Emmylou Harris collection, it’s an essential volume for it.

Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers run through some of Emmylou’s most recognizable songs such as “Roses in the Snow” and “Boulder to Birmingham,” some evergreen standards such as “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Green Pastures,” some unexpected covers such as Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” and “Save The Last Dance For Me” by The Drifters, and a few seriously smokin’ instrumental numbers from the boys in the back.

Live or otherwise, there’s not a note out of place on this recording. When the ending comes to songs like “Beneath Still Waters” and “Green Pastures,” you get the same chill bumps you would if you were standing there right in the room, with Emmylou’s beautifully bruised voice resonating off the ceiling and walls, and resounding into eternity.

Along with being an excellent live album, Ramble in Music City: The Lost Concert works as a great career retrospective on Emmylou Harris too. This really is a lost gem that illustrates what a treasure Emmylou Harris is, and underscores how her contributions to country music should never go overlooked, or forgotten.

8.5/10

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