Emmylou Harris, perennial sweetheart of the rodeo, has a new look. Her hair, once silken and straight, is now a lush thicket of curls, and jeans and a sequined blouse has replaced more familiar and formal western wear. But Harris' voice--it remains the same, as pure and as affecting as ever.
Backed by the versatile and tight Hot Band last night at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, Harris treated her "home-town crowd" to a warm yet lively performance that included, not surprisingly, several sensitively arranged and beautifully sung ballads.
Although the Hot Band isn't as vocally distinctive as it once was--with the departure of Ricky Skaggs, among others--it consistently embellished the material with tasteful instrumental flair, often turning to the banjo, fiddle, pedal steel guitar and even the saxophone for just the right feeling and flavor.
Without any accompaniment, the charm of Harris' exquisitely refined country phrasing probably would have made some of the songs a success in any case, but the up-tempo tunes, which really benefited from the ensemble's backing, were frequently just as enjoyable.
While Harris seemed to be reaching a bit while singing the rock 'n' roll standard "He's a Rebel," other surprises, including "Twenty Flight Rock" and a T-Bone Burnett tune, bounced to a joyfully contagious country rock beat.