Greensleeves Reggae Sampler 18

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Like the poor, country music is always with us. Whether it's in the sibilant mushiness of LeAnn Rimes or the demented ravings of Sparklehorse, the Wild West might have nothing to do with Britain ...

LIKE THE POOR, COUNTRY MUSIC IS always with us. Whether it’s in the sibilant mushiness of LeAnn Rimes or the demented ravings of Sparklehorse, the Wild West might have nothing to do with Britain (aside from the current vogue for stetson hats) but by God, it’s popular. Emmylou Harris, in the course of a career that spans the best part of 30 years, has been about as celebrated as ‘real’ country singers have got. She’s had a stream of hit albums, and let’s not forget the kudos-enriched collaboration with Gram Parsons on his epochal ‘Grievous Angel’ LP.

‘Spyboy’, however, is a stop-gap live album and is, in a modest way, a celebration of one of country’s most distinctive voices. Harris’ cracked warble has often been imitated but, as her performance of the Nashville standard ‘Love Hurts’ proves, rarely bettered. Elsewhere, there are renditions of songs from her last proper record, the sumptuously produced ‘Wrecking Ball’, like the rambling ‘Deeper Well’ and the elegiac ‘Boulder To Birmingham’. Happily, there’s no prospect of a hoedown or a linedance in sight.

That’s because this is country music without the Grand Ole Opry pizzazz, with nary a mention of horses, outlaws or barrelheads (whatever they might be). Not perhaps the ideal introduction to Emmylou Harris’ music, but for those who resolutely believe in life outside the indie Top 20, a useful window into a world of country music.

Stand by your Mansuns if you will, but keep an open mind.