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Elite Hotel
Emmylou Harris

Reprise MS 2236
Released: January 1976
Chart Peak: #25
Weeks Charted: 23
Certified Gold: 7/27/78

Emmylou HarrisElite Hotel almost duplicates the formula established by Emmylou Harris and producer Brian Ahern on her successful Warner Bros. debut, Pieces of the Sky. Like Pieces, Elite contains three ballads with string orchestration, a Beatles song, an original tune and a mix of country standards and her broadly appealing country-rock material. Though the backup of fine country musicians has changed somewhat, key players James Burton (lead guitar) and Glen Hardin (piano) remain.

Harris sings like a more ethereal and fragile Linda Ronstadt, her voice perpetually on the edge of tears. It is a very affecting instrument, especially on ballads like Buck Owen's "Together Again," Rodney Crowell's "Till I Gain Control Again," Lennon and McCartney's "Here, There and Everywhere" and the traditional "Satan's Jewel Crown," where Harris's polished phrasing and impeccable intonation enhance the already melodious material.

Emmylou Harris - Elite Hotel
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Harris's control tends to work against her in the medium and uptempo songs. Though her renditions of Hank Williams's "Jambalaya," Wayne Kemp's "Feelin' Single -- Seein' Double" and her own well-made "Amarillo" (coauthored with guitarist/vocalist Crowell) lack the edge a less mannered singer might have given them.

This distinction is particularly apparent in Harris's handling of material by the late Gram Parsons. Her reprise of "Ooh Las Vegas," which she sang with Parsons on Grievous Angel, though winningly exuberant, sounds glib compared to Parsons's idiosyncratic vocal. The same holds for her treatment of two excellent Parson-Chris Hillman songs, "Wheels" and "Sin City," highlights of the Burrito Brothers' The Gilded Palace of Sin. Where the Burritos' versions projected an ongoing personal battle with the cosmos, Harris lends them only a honeyed sadness.

Brian Ahern's production is so knowledgeable that the several cuts recorded live are distinguishable from the studio tracks only by applause. With the exception of a Mystic Moods Orchestra-style interlude in "Here, There and Everywhere," the arrangements are scrupulously tasteful, and the playing by Burton, Hardin, Hank diVito, John Ware and others maintains the highest professional standards. If Elite Hotel comes close to musical perfection, it is because of the refinement of a listenable, occasionally compelling formula.

- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 2/26/76.

Bonus Reviews!




Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review:
Pieces of the Sky

Emmylou Harris Lyrics

Emmylou Harris Videos

Emmylou Harris Mugshots

Emmylou Harris' second album is good, a success, but it has to finesse its way out of what seems to me a lackadaisical approach to selecting songs. She just hasn't uncovered the kind of nuggets she did for the first album, although a couple that I would have peremptorily advised against -- Buck Owens' familiar "Together Again" and Don Gibson's "Sweet Dreams" -- go very well with her silky-resonant voice. But I still can't see the point of including "Here, There and Everywhere" or the done-to-death "Jambalaya," or the dippy and lifeless "Ooh Las Vegas." She sings them well enough, but they do take up space that could have gone to songs I know are out there. Some of these are heart decisions, as she included three songs (the other two of which are considerably more interesting than "Ooh Las Vegas") co-written by the late Gram Parsons, her mentor and friend. The real find in the batch is "Till I Gain Control Again" by Rodney Crowell, not because it's that great a song but because it's the kind of straightforward thing Harris sings better than just about anyone (it's done in B-flat, which, for some reason, seems to be a good key for several female voices I've admired in my day). The thing that's special in her voice is subtle, having to do with there being just the right amount of nasality in it or something, and she simply doesn't need quirky songs or chestnuts everyone knows by heart, just a few that really say something she can wholeheartedly connect with... and there must be just of those here. I do keep listening to it.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 5/76.

More of a country than a pop album, but Harris did quite well on the pop charts with her first effort for the label and this is just as strong a set. Songs from Buck Owens, Wayne Kemp, Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman and Lennon & McCartney among others offer the singer the chance to tackle a variety of styles. High spot with her is her ability to take familiar cuts and create a highly original sound. Several live cuts add some spark to the set as do the musicians, including Glen D. Hardin, James Burton, Micky Raphael, Rick Cunha, Jonathan Edwards and Ben Keith. Good production from Brian Ahern. Best cuts: "Amarillo," "Till I Gain Control Again," "Here, There And Everywhere," "Satan's Jewel Crown," "Wheels."

- Billboard, 1976.

This flows better than the first, but it also makes clear that Emmylou is just another pretty voice, a country singer by accident. I mean, Linda Ronstadt has the best female voice in country music, and even she doesn't satisfy the way an original like Dolly Parton or Loretta Lynn does. And since there's not a cover version here that equals the prototype, all she accomplishes with her good taste in material is to send you scurrying for the sources. I prefer Donna Fargo. Not Lynn Anderson, though. C+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Picking up the torch from her late partner, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris defined the country-rock hybrid of the 70s and 80s. Here she presents her own versions of the Parsons classics "Sin City" and "Wheels," gives a boost to up-and-comer Rodney Crowell, and even covers The Beatles, all in her heartbreaking voice and backed by a group of session stars soon aptly named "The Hot Band." * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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