on February 29, 2004
Although this wasn't my first introduction to Emmylou (first hearing her harmonize with Linda Ronstadt on her HEART LIKE A WHEEL album) it was my first time I heard her singing solo. It was because of this album that Emmylou has remained my favorite musical artist for over 25 years now. Listening to it after all this time gives me the same thrill as it did in 1975 when I first heard it and knew I had to see this singer in concert ASAP, which I did that same year.
My favorite cut, is without a doubt, BOULDER TO BIRMINGHAM since it's also my all-time favorite Emmylou song. My least favorite is probably FOR NO ONE and perhaps for no particular reason other than I never was a big Beatles fan and this always reminds me of the Beatles. I do like THE BOTTLE LET ME DOWN but then I'm a big Merle Haggard fan so there you go.
I love Herb Pedersen's harmonies on IF I CAN ONLY WIN YOUR LOVE, making it another favorite cut. BEFORE BELIEVING is also a favorite as is SLEEPLESS NIGHTS. The others, BLUEBIRD WINE, COAT OF MANY COLORS, QUEEN OF THE SILVER DOLLAR although enjoyable fit somewhere in the middle. TOO FAR GONE fits somewhere between the favorites and the middle.
What strikes me most on this early album is the way her voice hasn't changed that much. Her voice is so pristine in this album and although I do note a grittiness in her voice not there previously, her voice is still strong and so distinctive.
Ranking of this on my favorite Emmylou CDs? Probably #1. Probably because of BOULDER TO BIRMINGHAM and IF I CAN ONLY WIN YOUR LOVE but because it struck me so emotionally the first time I ever heard it. And also likely because the first two of three times I saw Emmylou in concert this was the only album she had out so these songs are indelibly etched in my brain. Anyway, this album is a MUST if you're a true Emmylou fan
on February 26, 2004
1975's Pieces of the Sky was Emmylou Harris' major label debut. It is also part of Rhino's recent reissue of her first five Reprise albums.
Pieces of the Sky established a high standard that Harris maintained for years to come. Her blueprint included the assemblage of stellar musicians, among them the legendary guitarist James Burton who had earlier worked his magic on numerous recordings by Rick Nelson and Elvis Presley. Also, an extremely eclectic song selection, with new compositions such as "Bluebird Wine" (by her future Hot Band member Rodney Crowell) and Harris' own "Boulder To Birmingham," alongside covers of the Louvin Brother's "If I Could Only Win Your Love," Lennon & McCartney's "For No One" and Dolly Parton's "Coat Of Many Colors."
"Too Far Gone" (# 13 country) and "If I Could Only Win Your Love" (# 4 country, # 58 pop) were this album's singles. For these remastered Rhino reissues, they have also included two bonus tracks on each cd. The additions to Piece Of The Sky are a pair of Dallas Frazier compositions, "Hank And Lefty" and "California Cottonfields" whose ultra-traditional sound fits in nicely with the rest of the original album.
on December 10, 2003
Emmylou was a delightful discovery nearly 30 years ago, and her first album remains a joy. Before she started experimenting with different genres several albums down the road, before age took a toll on her voice and she adapted with grace, producing masterpieces like "Wrecking Ball", there was this pure clean gorgeous voice like no other. And there was a unique sound that hit the ground running here, with a perfect album in which every song was a solid winner.
This isn't today's "alt-country", and indeed it may well be more country than some of Emmylou's 21st-century fans are comfortable with. Back in the day, we hippie sorts had nothing to do with official country music, and the official world of country music would have nothing to do with Emmylou. She was nowhere near to moving to Nashville yet, and was played on the same FM stations that played rock music. Her music was a continuation of music we then put in the country-rock genre, which was considered every bit as cool as any other sort of rock in the early 70's. In a rock historian's book, maybe the driving force was Gram Parsons joining the Byrds and helping create their "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" album. But out in the real world, no one had heard of Gram Parsons, was unlikely to have heard more than a song or two from that album, and what brought country-rock into our worlds were later incarnations of the Byrds, Bob Dylan doing "Nashville Skyline", and lesser bands like New Riders of the Purple Sage or Commander Cody. Those are the sounds that primed us for the far more enduring music of Emmylou Harris.
Without denying Gram Parsons his due, he is known today largely because of the work Emmylou Harris started so brilliantly here. Some have said below that her covers of other people's songs were often superior to the originals, and I agree. I'll go a step farther and say that it's her covers of music that Parsons wrote or loved that not only put it on the map, but that made it sound good enough for it to acquire what eventually became a huge audience. I don't think that detracts from his talents, but it speaks to the beauty of her voice and the arrangements and production on this album and those that followed.
Listening to this CD decades later, it is striking how country it is, and hard to remember how easily we accepted this music in the rock world way back when. It's nearly as hard to imagine why her work wasn't accepted at the time by the country audience. And nowadays, when her voice is an entirely different sort of instrument, it's impossible to imagine why reviewers at the time thought her voice wasn't strong enough for a solo artist, and that she was better suited to being a backup singer. Though I was a huge fan, I felt there was some truth to the criticisms, and what drew me in were her soft, unspeakably sweet, angelic interpretations of slower songs. Tastes were just so different then. Compared to all the lovely and popular, but much-weaker, girlish voices of today's alt-country world, the Emmylou of the 70's belted songs out with a voice whose strength I had nearly forgotten. It is stunning to listen to today, after years of spending much more time with Wrecking Ball. Emmylou really rocked country long before "crossover" was invented.
This is probably an essential Emmylou album for anyone who is a fan of her 70's and 80's work. If you're browsing because you have a love affair with Wrecking Ball or later work, this may not be your cup of tea. To those of us who were there, this is the voice we loved doing the music we loved, and represents Emmylou at her peak - or, rather, one of her many peaks.
on September 24, 2003
After working (and more, so the rumors go) with Gram Parsons before he died (of Flying Burrito Brothers & other solo works fame), Emmylou Harris went solo with this incredible piece of work. At the time of its release, I suppose there was sort of a *hippy* country music genre (pioneered by The Flying Burrito Brothers, Townes Van Zandt, the Byrds (many of whom later became Burrito Brothers), and so many other greats) and before any of her work became really famous -- even before this lp received widespread airplay for its *hit* songs -- this wonderful body of work was mostly limited to formerly great radio stations without playlists known only to a few. Often, only those in the know about folksy countrified hippy performers (and folks living that type of lifestyle <G>) were the first to learn of and pretty much go crazy over this release: she was a local girl for us in the greater DC area, she'd been associated with other greats (where her voice often tantalized and beckoned), and her talent was simply incredible -- an attractive young lady playing and singing with GREAT passion and a beautiful, unique voice -- wow. I remember the infatuation and almost obsession my old friends and I back then developed for this album; she might now be considered a mainstream country star, but folks enjoying other types of music and *musical lifestyles* really should give this a chance: an absolutely incredible artist and truly a great debut.
Yes, there was an Emmylou album before this - the Gliding bird album on an independent label - but good though it was, it is this album that marks the beginning of Emmylou's career as we know it. Setting a pattern that would characterize many of Emmylou's albums, it featured many covers and few originals. Top quality musicians and Emmylou's superb voice ensured that the covers were often as good as, and sometimes better than, the originals.
On this album, there are three new songs, beginning with the rocking, upbeat Bluebird wine, the first of many songs written by Rodney Crowell that Emmylou would record. Even better is Boulder to Birmingham, a great ballad that has been covered by both the Hollies and Joan Baez. Incidentally, the title contains the names of two towns - Boulder in Colorado and Birmingham in Alabama. The other original, another fine ballad, is Before believing.
My favorite track here is Queen of the silver dollar, a song originally recorded by Dr Hook and the Medicine show. I like their version but Emmylou and her musicians improved on it and I don't understand why it wasn't released as a single. It was left to Dave and Sugar to take the song up the country charts. Their version is wonderful but still can't match Emmylou's.
Emmylou does a fine cover of Dolly's Coat of many colors, but this autobiographical song is the most personal of all Dolly's songs. Emmylou's cover is the best I've heard, but still not quite up to the original, although I'm glad she recorded it.
The other covers are all equal to or better than the original versions, and that is hifg praise indeed considering who the original artists were. Too far gone was originally recorded (as far as I can tell) by the late, great Dottie West in the sixties but remained obscure until Barbara Fairchild took it up the country charts. If I could only win your love was the first Louvin brothers song that Emmylou covered but certainly not the last. Bottle let me down was one of Merle Haggard's early classics. Sleepless nights was first recorded by the Everly brothers in the early sixties and was later covered by the Judds in the eighties. For no one is a Beatles song that first appeared on the Revolver album.
This, then, was a very strong debut album from Emmylou. It set the standard for the next few years. The style of the music varied but the quality was consistently high.
on December 20, 2002
This is Emmylou Harris' debut solo album, released in 1975 titled PIECES OF THE SKY. "Bluebird Wine" starts off the album, its a nice bluegrass/traditional country tinged song that will get your toes tapping. "Too Far Gone" is a favorite of mine, her first hit record too. She sings with so much remorse and passion in this song especially. Her rendition of the Louvin Brothers' "If I Could Only Win Your Love" is inspired, another highlight of the album. "Boulder to Birmingham" has become only one of her signature tunes, but it's one of her best as well. It is a tribute to Gram Parsons, who helped her get her career started. She also manages a cover of Merle Haggard's "Bottle Let Me Down". She does a wonderful version of Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors" here as well, and Shel Silverstein's "Queen of the Silver Dollar". Another impressive song is "For No One", penned by Lennon and McCartney. Overall its a strong debut album, definately essential for any Emmylou Harris collection.
This official debut album from 1975 is an impressively varied and emotionally stirring collection of quality songs that includes compositions by country legends like Merle Haggard, a Lennon/McCartney composition and a powerful Harris co-composition: her aching, poetic tribute to Gram Parsons titled Boulder to Birmingham. This reissue of Pieces of the Sky has been enhanced by the addition of two previously unreleased tracks.
Of the up-tempo numbers, If I Could Only Win Your Love, Bottle Let Me Down and Queen of the Silver Dollar are the most outstanding. Among the slow songs I love Too Far Gone, Sleepless Nights and the exquisite & tender Before Believing. Even her version of Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors, though firmly in the country tradition, sounds fresh. But perhaps the best track is Boulder to Birmingham with its striking imagery and melancholy tune. Emmylou's singing is spot-on, tasteful and sometimes understated, the arrangements are appealing while the virtuoso playing perfectly complements her spiritually resonant voice.
This is the recording of a genius just setting out on her creative path, one that would lead to bluegrass masterpieces like Roses in the Snow (1980), classic country albums like Blue Kentucky Girl (1980) & Cowgirl's Prayer (1993), famous collaborations like Western Wall (1999) & Trio and traditional devotional music in a folk vein on Angel Band (1987), as well as boundary shifting atmospheric rock classics such as Wrecking Ball, Red Dirt Girl & Stumble Into Grace. Pieces of the Sky shows that the mastery of songcraft and the authentic soulful approach were there from the beginning.
on September 5, 2002
Emmylou's first major label debut, and what a fantastic way to start what has become a great career! *Pieces of the Sky* is an excellent blend of down-home country, folk, and rock. For the most part, the album is pretty off-beat, containing several mello country folk ballads and a few honkytonkers that pick up the pace in between. My favorite track is the shattering "Berfore Believing", which features a heavenly acoustic guitar hook and a serpentine melody. Another favorite is Shell Silverstein's "Queen of the Silver Doller" and Harris' self-penned "Boulder To Birmingham". Harris also takes her cracks at more up-beat stuff with Merle Haggard's roudy barroom classic "The Bottle Let Me Down" and the bouncy strut of "If I Could Only Win Your Love". However, it's the wistful, pensive ballads where her vocal beauty gleams the brightest. Just take one listen to the romantic, sweeping sound of "Too Far Gone"! Emmylou Harris and her band keep these songs relatively simple and acoustic. Just a little electric guitar and snappy drums here and there to give the album a contemporary touch. Emmylou rarely writes her own material, but her pasionate vocal interpretations make the songs seem as if they're her own. Definitely worth the admission price!
on February 27, 2002
I kid you not, this is pure country. But Emmylou has always had a huge non-country audience. There is something in her voice, in her delivery, that one has to like, regardless of genre.
I was a D.J. (among other duties) at a small radio station in Cottonwood, Arizona, when Emmy Lou came out with this, her first album. That was over 30 years ago, and this still stands as a classic.
Anybody listening to this album will have his or her favorites. These are mine:
"Too Far Gone", a soulful ballad in which emmylou's plaintive voice expresses a beauty, an integrity, which is still her trade mark.
"If I Could Only Win Your Love", which I believe was her first hit. Whatever, it sounds just as fresh to me as it did thirty-something years ago.
"Boulder To Birmingham" is another enduring favorite, expressing Emmy Lou's versatility and ability to evoke emotion.
It takes a truly great singer to take songs associated with other singers and present us with a worthwhile interpretation comparable in quality to the original. Merle Haggard's "Bottle Let Me Down" could've been written for her, her version being uniquely styled.
Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors" again illustrate her superb way of handling another's song. The current term of course is "cover", but in the case of these two songs, the term just doesn't seem to fit, IMHO.
I will quickly mention one cut which I consider a lesser one, but well worth noting, Lennon/McCartney's "For No One". Even at the very beginning, she showed off the diversity, the range of her talents.
This debut album is brought to a close with the rousing, yet poignant "Queen of the Silver Dollar", written by the great Shel Silverstein. Listen carefully, very carefully, and you will catch Linda Ronstadt's voice in the background.
All in all, as I said from the beginning, this is a classic album which is pure country, yet with an appeal to all musical tastes.
on March 4, 2001
Second album of Emmylou Harris, the first one being unavailable, the 1975 PIECES OF THE SKY is excellent. You will already find in it the name of a certain number of people Emmylou will work with in the years to come. For instance, Rodney Crowell, the author of " Bluebird Wine " and future composer of the most interesting albums of Emmylou Harris. Dolly Parton, whose " Coat of Many Colors " is one of the highlights of PIECES OF THE SKY and Linda Ronstadt who can be heard in the background vocals of " Queen of the Silver Dollar ".
What stroke me the most while regularly hearing PIECES OF THE SKY during the last weeks is the professionalism of the production of the album. Every instrument has got its moment of glory ; Ricky Skaggs's fiddle, Glen D. Hardin and Bill Payne's pianos or James Burton's guitars can be appreciated during long moments because Emmylou knows that the atmosphere of a song is not only created by the talent of the singer.
Billy Sheril's " Too far Gone " is the first hit of Emmylou and will appear in all the future anthologies dedicated to the artist but I personally prefer " Boulder to Birmingham " - a composition of Emmylou - or " Sleepless Nights " with its delicate and melancholic mood. I also liked the rendition of Lennon/Mc Cartney " For no One " . A curiosity.
An excellent choice.