An NPR host recently flattered Emmylou Harris by comparing her appearance at a songwriting workshop to having Arnold Schwarzenegger as a personal trainer. Given her 30-year career as a song interpreter and harmony singer par excellence, a comparison involving the Gubernator and tango lessons would have been less clueless. Until 2000's Red Dirt Girl, Harris had only dabbled in writing, with results like the strained (and now forgotten) allegory of the 1985 album Ballad of Sally Rose, but also the pristine soul of "Prayer in Open D" and "Boulder to Birmingham," her numinous tribute to mentor Gram Parsons. Her ticket to Valhalla, to be sure, has been written by her voice, a soprano pitched somewhere between the music of the spheres and the last sigh of loneliness at the end of the world.
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