Emmylou Harris: Roses in the Snow

MAY 1980 (32 YEARS AGO)
Emmylou Harris: Roses in the Snow is released.
# allmusic 4.5/5
Roses in the Snow is an album by country music artist Emmylou Harris, released in May, 1980. “Wayfaring Stranger” was released as the first single in 1980 and went to #7 on the Billboard Country charts. The second single, a remake of a Simon & Garfunkel song, “The Boxer” reached #13.
While Harris’ previous release, 1979’s Blue Kentucky Girl, featured traditional, straight-ahead country (as opposed to the country-rock of her prior efforts), Roses in the Snow found Harris performing Bluegrass-inspired music, with material by Flatt and Scruggs, Paul Simon, The Carter Family, and Johnny Cash. Cash, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice made guest appearances. Backing musicians included Albert Lee and Jerry Douglas.
Roses in the Snow was a bold move: first, because bluegrass had traditionally been the exclusive domain of men (Hazel Dickens being the most notable exception to the rule), and second, because it meant breaking with a formula that had served her well on her five previous releases. Harris tilted the odds back in her favor by assembling an all-star supporting cast including Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, and the Whites, then selecting–with usual impeccable taste–10 great songs for inclusion on the album.
As one would expect, Harris salutes the masters of bluegrass here, reworking numbers associated with Ralph Stanley (“The Darkest Hour is Just Before the Dawn”), Bill Monroe (“Wayfaring Stranger”) and Flatt and Scruggs (“I’ll Go Stepping Too”). Digging even further back, she also comes up with, and delivers on, A.P. Carter’s “Gold Watch and Chain” and Bill Halley’s “Miss the Mississippi and You,” both vestiges of recorded music’s earliest era. It’s not all ancient history, however: Roses also includes a hit version of Paul Simon’s “The Boxer,” miraculously recast as a bluegrass-friendly number.
Back before the Dixie Chicks brought bluegrass instruments to millions of country listeners, before Patty Loveless returned to her mountain music roots, before Ricky Skaggs and Alison Krauss charted on country radio with bluegrass songs, Emmylou Harris took the plunge and made a bluegrass album. Considering that it’s Harris, you wouldn’t expect it to be totally traditional; the adventurous singer struck out against country mainstream by even making an album with bluegrass instrumentation and songs when Roses in the Snow was first issued at the height of the urban cowboy boom in 1980. She also startled those who were ready to welcome her into the traditional music ranks by including Paul Simon’s “The Boxer” and the bluesy “Miss the Mississippi and You” right along with “Green Pastures” and “Gold Watch and Chain.” She proved that country audiences were willing to listen, too: “The Boxer” went to number 13 on the country charts of 1980 and “Wayfaring Stranger” reached number 7. The ten tracks on the original recording remain fresh with each listening some twenty two years on. Harris’ intelligent and restrained interpretation and backing by the likes of Skaggs, producer Brian Ahern, and Jerry Douglas illuminate the joyous title track, the lover’s taunt “I’ll Go Stepping Too,” and the haunting spiritual “Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn,” among others. This reissue adds two tracks recorded at the original sessions, Hank Williams’ (senior) country blues “You’re Gonna Change” and the Celtic flavored love ballad “Root Like a Rose,” written by Nancy Ahern. The liner notes include comments from Harris and others about the recording and several additional images from the original album cover photo shoot. It’s vintage Harris, a classic only made better by the passage of time.
~ Kerry Dexter (emmylou.net)
“Roses in the Snow” (Ruth Franks) – 2:32
“Wayfaring Stranger” (Traditional/arr. Brian Ahern) – 3:26
“Green Pastures” (Traditional/arr. Brian Ahern) – 3:08
“The Boxer” (Paul Simon) – 3:16
“Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn” (Ralph Stanley) – 3:22
“I’ll Go Stepping Too” (Tom James/Jerry Organ) – 2:16
“You’re Learning” (Ira Louvin/Charlie Louvin) – 2:57
“Jordan” Traditional/arr. Brian Ahern) – 2:07
“Miss the Mississippi and You” (Billy Halley) – 3:40
“Gold Watch and Chain” (A.P. Carter) – 3:12
A 2002 CD reissue added two previously unissued bonus tracks:
“You’re Gonna Change” (Hank Williams) – 2:40
“Root Like a Rose” (Nancy Ahern) – 4:45

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