Angel Band

Emmylou Harris

Warner Brothers, 1987

REVIEW BY: Curtis Jones


Emmylou Harris has proven herself to be a dynamic artist with eclectic tastes who appeals to wide audiences. Having had a strong presence in country music for decades, she has moved more into the Americana genre now. Or rather, country moved away from her as country artists seek to blend with the pop mainstream in a sound I call "pop with fiddles." Angel Band was released in 1987 and actually spent time on the country charts, reaching number 23 on the Billboard Country charts. On this disc, she also gets some help from familiar names like Vince Gill, Mike Aldridge, Jerry Douglas, and Carl Jackson. 

On a personal level, it was nice to get reacquainted with this album. As I went through it, I recalled hearing many of the songs on the Sunday morning bluegrass gospel show we listened to before church as a kid. The collection contains a good mix of old hymns, classic bluegrass gospel songs, and a few that were more contemporary choices. A lot of artistic license is taken with some of the traditional songs. Verses in "Precious Memories" are rearranged, words are adjusted in "Where Could I Go," and so many words are changed in "When They Ring The Golden Bells" (written in 1887 by Dion DeMarbelle) that it verges on changing the meaning of the song and at the very least makes it unenjoyable for someone who actually knows the song. On the other hand, "We Shall Rise" and “You're Drifting Too Far From The Shore” hold close to their published versions and are two stand out tracks on the album. "We Shall Rise" is sped up slightly, with an Earl Scruggs style guitar intro and break. "Drifting" is simply beautiful and compelling. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Harris chose to use two Stanley Brothers tracks for the album, the mostly a cappella "Bright Morning Stars" and the lamentation "Who Will Sing For Me?" which will make any singer wonder who might sing for them at their funeral. "Bright Morning Stars" is a decent track but it sounds like it was pitched too high for everyone involved, including Harris whose voice is incredibly rough. It sounds as if it was recorded at the end of a long day of singing and should have been redone the next day with fresher pipes. The same goes for "Praise God I Feel Like Singing," although not to the extent that it is evident in "Bright." 

"Someday My Ship Will Sail" stands out as a more contemporary selection but is able to blend in to the album order. “If I Be Lifted Up" is also a newer song for the time but it fits well beside the traditional songs.

In my book, Angel Band is a quality album that does well to bring traditional American gospel to a wider country audience. Harris loses points for the roughness of two tracks and murdering the lyrics to a classic and beautiful tune like "When They Ring The Golden Bells." But nearly thirty years after its release, it holds up well. Like many of Harris's efforts, it may be called timeless.

Rating: B

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