My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Emmylou Harris – ‘Luxury Liner’

1977’s Luxury Liner is the third offering in Emmylou Harris’ discography, excluding 1970’s Gliding Bird. Like its two predecessors, it is an eclectic mix of country and rock-and-roll, relying a little more heavily on cover material than her earlier albums had done. Produced by Brian Ahern and backed by her superb Hot Band, Emmylou pays tribute to everyone from Chuck Berry and her late mentor Gram Parsons to The Carter Family, The Louvin Brothers, and Kitty Wells. Though it failed to produce any Top 5 hits, Luxury Liner reached #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and is Emmylou’s best-selling solo effort.

Rodney Crowell, Albert Lee, Glen D. Hardin, Emory Gordy Jr. and Ricky Skaggs all make appearances as members of The Hot Band, while Herb Pedersen, Nicolette Larson, Fayssoux Starling, and Dolly Parton lend their voices to the project. The first single was a cover of Chuck Berry’s 1964 hit “You Never Can Tell (C’est La Vie”), which is given a Cajun flavor by Ricky Skaggs on fiddle. It reached #6 on the Billboard country singles chart. For the second single, Emmylou did an about-face and released the very traditional “Making Believe”, a remake of Kitty Wells’ 1955 hit. Emmylou’s version reached #8.

Although only two singles were released, Luxury Liner contains some very well known album cuts. “Hello Stranger”, on which Nicolette Larson chimes in, had been a hit for The Carter Family in the 1930s. Though clearly not in the vein of what country radio was playing in the 1970s, I was surprised to learn that the track had never been released as a single, primarily because of its inclusion on Emmylou’s 1978 compilation album Profile. Also in the traditional vein are Susanna Clark’s “I’ll Be Your Rose of San Antone” and a remake of the Louvin Brothers’ 1955 recording “When I Stop Dreaming,” on which Dolly Parton provides a beautiful harmony vocal. My personal favorite among this set, “When I Stop Dreaming” sowed the seeds for the Trio project which would appear a decade later.

On the more contemporary side are the title track and “She”, both written by Harris’ mentor Gram Parsons (the latter co-written with Chris Etheridge), a pair of Rodney Crowell tunes (“You’re Supposed To Be Feeling Good” and “Tulsa Queen”, which he co-wrote with Emmylou), and a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty”, a tale of two aging Mexican bandits, which would go on to become a #1 smash for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard in 1983.

Warner Bros. remastered and re-released Luxury Liner in 2004, along with two bonus tracks: “Me and Willie” and the excellent “Night Flyer” which was written by Johhny Mullins. Mullins is best known as the writer of “Blue Kentucky Girl” which had been a hit for both Emmylou and Loretta Lynn.

Eclectic albums are hard to pull off; it’s difficult to perform a wide variety of musical styles well. It’s even more difficult to put together such a collection without losing cohesion or alienating fans who prefer one style over another. But Emmylou and the Hot Band move seamlessly from rock to old-time country and everything in between, and even though I consider the two Crowell-penned tunes to be the weakest on the album, there really isn’t a bad song to be found here.

Grade: A

Luxury Liner is available from Amazon and iTunes and is well worth seeking out.

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5 responses to “Album Review: Emmylou Harris – ‘Luxury Liner’

  1. Ken Johnson April 8, 2011 at 11:42 am

    “Greatest Hits” and “Best Of” albums always amazed me when they included tracks that were not legitimate hits. Not that they weren’t good songs. However I always felt cheated by the record label when hit singles were overlooked in deference to filler material. In the case of Emmylou’s first “Profile/Best Of” album it was issued during the era of the standard 10 track LP and all of her single hits up to that point were included. “Too Far Gone” her debut single for Reprise was reissued as the “new” single from the Profile LP. It surpassed it’s 1975 peak position of #73 and climbed to #13 in March 1979. My guess it that “Boulder To Birmingham” and “Hello Stranger” were included as unbilled “bonus” tracks. Unfortunately for a buyer not familiar with an artists catalog those non-hit tracks often create a mistaken notion that they were indeed succcessful singles.

    Back to “Luxury Liner,” the song “I’ll Be Your San Antone Rose” was also a cover song. It was a #12 hit for Dottsy in early 1976. (For Dottsy fans: I read that she recently recorded some new tunes)

  2. Occasional Hope April 8, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Another great album from Emmylou.

  3. Chris April 26, 2011 at 12:27 am

    This is my far my favorite solo Emmy album. “When I Stop Dreaming,” “She,” and “You’re Supposed To Be Feeling Good” are all among her best recordings.

  4. liz June 14, 2011 at 9:03 am

    OK, i had this album years ago. LOVED IT. Still do, but i remember a cut (can’t remember the name…) but the lyrics were something like: “He’d be the son of his father, his father the preacher teaching love and honesty… Son of the a run of the mill run rotten gambler.”
    I cannot find this anywhere… 😦

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