Roseland Theater, Portland OR

Her own songs sound great, so ease up on the covers...

Shortly after taking the stage, a fit-looking [a]Emmylou Harris[/a] set the boundaries for what was to be an atypical show: “I figured I had to do something new, or they’d take my licence away.” The “something new” is a show that relies on predominantly original songs, rather than the richly-mined covers that have driven her for a quarter-century.

But those who would turn her recent songwriting spurt into something unusual haven’t been paying attention. Consider that the three best songs on last year’s duo album with Linda Ronstadt were Harris originals – she has always added her own compositions as spice to her mostly interpretative albums. So changing the ratio requires only a slight refocus.

Much of the new ‘Red Dirt Girl’ borrows the intense, atmospheric sheen from 1995’s ‘Wrecking Ball’. Live, guitarist Buddy Miller pushes the tonal spectrum in the same way as Richard Thompson, if Thompson was born in Texas and grew up cheerful. New bassist Tony Hall pulled a neat trick during ‘Orphan Girl’, tapping the strings with his left hand and pounding a drum with his right. Drummer Brady Blade and Miller did double duty, backing Harris and opening act (and Buddy’s wife) Julie Miller.

Harris will be back next year with another musical archaeological dig, but she’d do us all a favour if she keeps writing. Her own songs have become as compelling as those she interprets, and it would be more of a kick to hear a few more of them instead of the umpteenth version of ‘Love Hurts’ or ‘I Ain’t Living Long Like This’.