Emmylou Harris walked on stage at Merriweather Post Pavilion last night, strapped a big, fat acoustic guitar over her shoulder and ripped into Hank Snow's "Movin' On." This was no sweetheart of the rodeo singing in a lovely soprano voice; that would come later with Jesse Winchester's "Songbird," Paul Simon's "The Boxer" and Townes Van Zandt's "If I Needed You." No, this was Harris digging her spurs into an old country warhorse, the honky-tonk side of Harris' personality that seems to have displaced, on this tour at least, the more bluegrass-flavored music of previous years.
There were other surprises, too, most of them songs from an upcoming live album, including spirited tributes to both rockabilly and Buck Owens. During these moments, Harris wielded an electric guitar quite competently as her Hot Band, which is still impressive though no longer teeming with distinctive talent, sparkled behind her.
For this, her hometown concert, Harris offered up several favorites. Both traditional songs ("Spanish Is the Loving Tongue") and contemporary ones ("Even Cowgirls Get the Blues") shimmered in the soft glow of her voice and harmonies. But she was at her best, and certainly her most buoyant, singing honky-tonkers like "Two Bottles of Wine" or equally exhilarating rockers by John Fogerty and Chuck Berry