& Area Guide
By Times staff writers
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2000
EMMYLOU HARRIS, CIMARRON and LAST DANCE (EMINENT) - This month, Eminent Records reissued two classic Emmylou Harris albums from her Warner Brothers catalog, making them available for the first time on compact disc: Cimarron, originally released in 1981, which rested on the country charts for 42 weeks, and Last Date, a gorgeous 1982 live album recorded with Harris' talented Hot Band at several honky-tonks in California. Both albums have been digitally remastered. Both include extensive new liner notes, bonus tracks and rare photos.
"It's like meeting with two old friends I haven't seen in a long time," Harris recently told Billboard. But, like all reunions with pals from the past, the albums offer many fond memories -- and a couple of quibbles.
Cimarron is a fine album. It is. But Harris's musical strength has always been her curiosity, a maverick approach to her art that found the singer in the early 1970s trading wimpy folk for groundbreaking country rock with former honey Gram Parsons. Harris, too, chooses unconventional material, giving new spins to songs by Neil Young and the Beatles -- a "country" singer doing Here, There and Everywhere? (Consult the entire 1995 Wrecking Ball disc for an example of Harris with her game on. Her otherwordly soprano and brave, confident renditions of tunes by Young, Gillian Welch and and Lucinda Williams are startling.)
Unfortunately, Cimarron lacks such oomph. It's traditional by-the-book country, the album Nashville geeks cite to say, "Now why can't Emmylou give us more of that? (snort, snort guffaw)"
Well, there's a reason Nashville "purists" think Harris is an odd duck: she's too much her own person. Although Harris respects tradition, she's more exciting when she shucks it. Grade: B
Last Date, on the other hand, is nearly flawless. Any country aficionado will tell you this one's a classic. Consider the Hot Band at the time included country luminaries Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell and Albert Lee, and you get an idea of Last Date's musical caliber.
Harris herself is in rare form, her aching soprano gracefully embracing tunes by Parsons, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. Harris's version of Springsteen's Racing in the Streets is stunning. Raucous versions of songs by Carl Perkins, Hank Cochran and the lovely If I Needed You, a duet with Don Williams, will make you catch your breath. Grade: A
SLEATER-KINNEY, ALL HANDS ON THE BAD ONE (KILL ROCK STARS) -- Sleater-Kinney's state-of-the-music album might beg the question, if saving rock 'n' roll is your mission in life, shouldn't you just be doing it rather than talking about it? Luckily, the songs here are so powerful and the tone so complex -- funny, scathing, celebratory -- that reservations get blown clean away.
Even the lyrics that directly address rock feel universal because they're about roles and constraints, and the band never sounds more exuberant than when it's tackling those constraints: "I'm so sick of tests/Go ahead and flunk my ass!" Corin Tucker exults in Male Model. And the band's (relative) success has been healthy for it; the predominant mood here is unrestrained joy at being able to make music that's this good.
Sleater-Kinney's confidence and sense of freedom translate into the most relentless instrumental work of the band's career, with no loss in its peerless songcraft. It's music that makes you want to drive to Best Buy and smash up the Limp Bizkit CDs. Grade: A+