Quite frankly, there are no better voices on the American folk-country music scene those of Nanci Griffith and Emmylou Harris.
And quite frankly, neither has ever sounded better than they do on two new releases: Griffith's "One Fair Summer Evening" and Harris' "Bluebird."Buy them both; if you have to make a choice, it's an impossible choice to make.
Nanci Griffith's tireless touring of the rodeo and fairground circuit has resulted in a loyal contingent of fans. And that life on the road has instilled in Griffith an uncanny knack for quiet, personal songs.
And "Summer Evening" captures the intimacy and charm of a Nanci Griffith live performance with a collection of favorites performed at the Anderson Fair Retail Restaurant, where the native Texan got her start many blue moons ago.
Griffith's pure Texas accent shines through as she talks to the audience, and the clear-as-a-Montana-sky voice and her acoustic delivery are nothing short of riveting. And then there's her songs. . . .
If you thought songs like "Roseville Fair" and "From a Distance" and "More Than a Whisper" and "Love at the Five and Dime" were great on the studio albums, they are even better live. And the stories she tells to go along with each of the songs gives her music an unparalleled character.
"Summer Evening," with its acoustic flavor, seems more a folk album than a country album (though it's doing just fine on the country charts). It's more of a pleasant experience than a statement of any sorts.
Emmylou Harris, on the other hand, has all the benefit of more than 20 years in the business, worldwide fame and fortune, and a string of hit songs andalbums. She could be forgiven if she released a less-than-perfect album.
But "Bluebird" just may be the most-perfect album Harris has ever done, ranking alongside "Ballad of Sally Rose" to make the two twin hallmarks of her career. It is not just a good album, it's great.
While "Summer Evening" makes for fine, pleasant listening, "Bluebird," which marks the artist's return to the Reprise label, is a statement of sorts. It is Emmylou Harris telling the world, "I don't care what the country music establishment want's me to sing. I will sing what I want."
And that's just fine, because Harris has succeeded on "Bluebird" in compiling a collection of songs that reflect much of the character and vitality that country music has lost over the past 10 years.
Never mind that this album sounds more folk than it does "country" (though that's probably because country doesn't sound very country these days).
A new generation of country performers has been trying to make country country again. But through all the trends, the voice and sound of Emmylou Harris have endured.
She is not a country singer; she's a singer who happens to sing country. And she sings with a warmth and conviction that elevate her music above the rest. Songs like "Lonely Street" and "Love Is" and "You've Been on My Mind" are, quite frankly, the best Harris has ever done.
And that's saying a whole lot. For years, Emmylou Harris has been the vocal standard against which others have been measured. She possesses that rare abilityto sing with a raw, twangy edge, yet deliver it in a way you'd want to play it at a formal dinner party. She's down-to-earth and elegant all rolled into one.
One of the real highlights is "Icy Blue Heart," where Harris relates a taleof romance, while Bonnie Raitt's slide guitar takes the song one level higher. Then again, the entire album is a cut above the rest.