Picks and Pans Review: At the Ryman
Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers
If Hams weren't the least corny of country singers, she wouldn't have much chance of pulling off this whole-kernel tribute to the Grand Ole Opry, which was recorded live at the Opry's former Nashville home last spring and broadcast on the Nashville Network in January.
Harris praises the audience's warmth, gushes over bluegrass pioneer (and Opry regular) Bill Monroe and even talks about how the Ryman allows country fans to "get in touch with all that hillbilly dust."
The album's saving grace is Harris's set of 16 country standbys, which she sings with characteristic delicacy and verve. The only odd choice is Richard Holler's monument to the maudlin, "Abraham, Martin and John." Otherwise, Harris profitably reprises the Hank Williams hit "Half as Much," Eddy Arnold's "Cattle Call," Jack Clement's "I Guess Things Happen That Way," the gospel-tinged "Calling My Children Home," Bruce Springsteen's "Mansion on the Hill" and even Stephen Foster's "Hard Times" (now we're talking serious oldie territory).
While Harris's backup group, the Ramblers, may not be up to the exalted standards set by her old Hot Band, they're not the fleet of obsolete hulks suggested by their name either. Sam Bush's fiddle, Al Perkins's dobro and Roy Huskey Jr.'s bass and vocals complement Harris's resolutely unfrilly delivery.
As long as Emmylou doesn't start wearing hats with price tags dangling from their rims, this kind of thing could even give corniness a good name. (Reprise)
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