As proven by her 10 Grammy Awards and legion of obsessive fans (concert-goers post not only set lists and reviews from her shows on Internet chat rooms, but also her outfit of the night), Emmylou Harris’ 30-year career has been marked by a continual stream of critical and popular acclaim. From her beginning as a backup singer for the inestimable country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons to her legendary Hot Band and Nash Rambler bands to the collaboration with aural genius Daniel Lanois on 1995’s mind-blowing Wrecking Ball album to her current work with Spyboy, Emmylou has not only captured the public’s favor but has demonstrated a remarkable ability—a la Neil Young—to continually reinvent herself without compromising a lick of musical integrity.
When she comes into town for Monday night’s show, Emmylou will bring Spyboy, her touring band for the last five years, in tow. Named for a character from the Mardi Gras Indians’ ceremonial parade, Spyboy is a wonder in itself, manned by critic’s darling Buddy Miller on guitar, Daryl Johnson on bass and Brady Blade on drums.
Assembled on the heels of Wrecking Ball, Spyboy gives Emmylou both the flexibility to perform stylized versions of her considerable songbook and the musical chops to nail interpretations of Wrecking Ball songs, which feature considerable amounts of feedback and reverb, sharp guitar riffs and bottom-end grooves. As the 1998 live compilation Spyboy indicates, Emmylou and the boys have shaped a magnificent creative alliance on a body of songs that range from an a cappella version of “Calling My Children Home” to a wicked reading—complete with drum solo—of Lanois’ gorgeous “The Maker.”
Throw into the mix the material from last year’s Red Dirt Girl—a stunning array of self-penned songs that place Emmylou squarely in the elite category of songwriters—and there is virtually no limit to the heights that Emmylou and Spyboy can reach on stage.
This is simply an instance of an American master at the very top of her creative powers working with some of the finest musicians going right now. Miss it at your own risk.
Emmylou Harris and Spyboy play the University Theatre on Monday, June 25 at 8 p.m. Tickets $26 advance, $28 day of show. Call 1-888-MONTANA.