Emmylou Harris enchants in concert at Michigan Theater
On Friday at the Michigan Theater, Harris chose well, selecting a setlist that enchanted an adoring audience that — let’s face it — was already half smitten.
And why not? Harris, a deserving member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, is bewitching. With a mane of silver hair and a voice that’s both earthy and heavenly, she makes every song she sings her own — whether or not she wrote it.
On Friday, she sang her own songs, like the excellent “Red Dirt Girl,” cherry-picked some of the exquisite covers from her four-decade career and even tackled a handful of bluegrass standards during a well-paced, 90-minute show.
At 62, Harris still possesses a voice for the ages. And even though it sounded somewhat strained at times, it still was capable of imbuing each song with the haunting warmth that is her calling card.
But it’s as an interpreter of other songwriters’ work where Harris really shines. And on Friday, these tunes were the standouts. Tunes like Gillian Welch’s “Orphan Girl,” Billy Joe Shaver’s “Old Five and Dimers Like Me” and her old singing partner Gram Parsons’ “Wheels.”
And while the more ethereal treatments that have marked her recent career were effective, Harris was most effective when she kicked up her cowboy boots and got down with some good ol’ honky-tonk country.
Her band, the Red Dirt Boys, was up to that task, particularly with lead guitarist Buddy Miller heading the charge with his truncated, stinging solos. Harris seemed to have the most fun during these moments, dancing along with the rhythm section and digging into the strings on her enormous Gibson guitars.
After all, for all of her atmospheric leanings, Harris proved on Friday that you can take singer out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the singer.
Will Stewart is a free-lance writer for AnnArbor.com.