Perhaps "To Emmylou," a collection of Emmylou Harris songs performed by a group of Los Angeles artists, will further reveal this beloved singer's sometimes little known songwriting talents. Until relatively recently, Harris was best known as an extraordinary interpreter of others' songs. However, her "Red Dirt Girl" album from 2000, especially, showcased Harris' songwriting skills. Maybe it was her keen eye for choosing songs and bringing them to vivid life over the years that prepared Harris to finally pen more of her own.
Harris's "Red Dirt Girl" is referenced directly with "Boy from Tupelo," and especially with the banjo-backed, Dobro colored cover of its title track from Ashleigh Flynn. Flynn transforms this song into a lovely, bluegrass-y toe-tapper that might make you believe it's actually an old mountain song - if you didn't already know any better. Flynn may not sing too much like Harris, but she nevertheless approximates Harris's world-weary tone with her cover. The Silver Lake Chorus's version of "Timberline" is this quality album's most unusual inclusion, as it is performed a capella.
As good as the music on "To Emmylou" is - and it is quite excellent throughout - it can never match the otherworldly sound of hearing Harris' angelic voice. In fact, Harris' backing or harmony vocals have improved other artist's recordings more times than we can count. Even so, Burning Jet Black gives "Six White Cadillacs" a kind of The Mavericks-like swagger that is far afield of Harris' range, which paints the tune in a whole different light. This is a wise move on the band's part because it's impossible to convincingly imitate the sound of a unique voice like Harris.
Harris has been country music's greatest champion of other artist's music for as long as we can remember, so it does the heart good to hear these performers return the favor.