Thursday, April 2, 2009

Light a candle for Emmylou

Happy Birthday, Red Dirt Girl.

For years I considered you country because you were born in Birmingham, wore cowboy boots and buckskin and loved to play those big Gibson jumbo guitars. And those first albums I bought, "Elite Hotel'' and "Blue Kentucky Girl'' whispered the truth, and I listened.

But you never could be put in a pen. It was never "country'' or "country-rock'' or "folk-rock'' or "alt-country'' because you never joined anybody's club and you walked across genres like you were walkin' across Texas and needed to get there by nightfall. (And who wouldn't struggle to get past Gram Parsons, we're not over him still.)

Some critics complained because you covered so many others' songs instead of writing more of your own music. But that's what a Great Interpreter does. And if they had taken the time to absorb themselves in "Red Dirt Girl'' they would never raise that question again.

Some fans couldn't understand why you haven't enjoyed the popularity of your good friends Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton, but that's apples to oranges (and, well, grapefruit). Your earthy soprano voice -- a songbird! -- has been seeded in every corner of God's green earth and shows up in places wonderful and unexpected. When somebody asks "Who's that singing backup on that song'' there's a good chance it's you.

And you keep going -- 62 now -- like there's no tomorrow. And maybe there isn't, which is why we ought to be paying attention right now, today.

Your last chance Texaco
Your sweetheart of the rodeo
A Juliet to your Romeo
The border you cross into Mexico
I'll never understand why or how
Oh but baby it's too late now
Just ask the boy from Tupelo
He's the king and he oughta know

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