The music and career of Emmylou Harris was celebrated Thursday at the South by Southwest Festival as Rhino Records used the opportunity to announce the Sept. 18 release of a four-CD/one-DVD boxed set.
“Songbird” will feature two CDs of Harris’ selections of her favorite tracks and two CDs of duets she has recorded, plus recordings she has made for various tribute albums, many of which are out of print.
Talk about the set and its components began three years ago when Rhino A&R exec James Austin sat down with Harris in her living room to go over the recordings. They quickly realized they didn’t want to duplicate her other hits compilations.
“It was a two-year process of going back and forth with me sending her hundreds of CDs and an iPod filled with her recordings,” Austin says, singling out her work in duet settings.
“Emmy is so selfless. She’s always cognizant about the person she is performing with and never tries to steal the spotlight. She wants to share the spotlight. The love of being able to collaborate is still not lost on her.”
Austin wasn’t alone heaping praise on Harris. Her interviewer at a morning session, filmmaker Jonathan Demme, was equally effusive as he inserted compliments in nearly every question.
Harris discussed aging, her voice, and two key collaborators — Gram Parsons and Buddy Miller — in the session that also found her performing a half-dozen songs, among them “Love Hurts,” “Wrecking Ball” and “Boulder to Birmingham.”
In the afternoon, Warner Music’s Rhino and Nonesuch feted Harris at the Driskill Hotel by having eight musicians perform material either written by or recorded by Harris. In a series of uniformly strong perfs, Charlie Sexton put some extra grit into “Red Dirt Girl,” Kelly Willis milked the passion in “Boulder to Birmingham,” and Allison Moorer and Buddy Miller pushed the tears on “Love Hurts.” Paula Cole, Charlie Louvin, Elizabeth Cook and the Watson Twins also performed.
“Emmylou is one of the most beautiful interpreters of a song,” Willis said in her introduction. “Then she had to go and write this beautiful song (‘Boulder to Birmingham’) to prove she can do it all.”
Harris was presented with a plaque celebrating her selling 15 million albums over the course of her career.
“We want to make a living making music … but this shows the benefits of making music, sharing the stage and sharing the music business with like minded souls,” Harris said in accepting the wall hanging that featured covers of all her albums.