LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
When musicians make recordings, countless decisions must be made, the biggest one maybe what to keep and what to discard. As a result, some great music is never heard. Grammy Award winning singer and songwriter Emmylou Harris has been making those decisions for more than 30 years. And for her latest release, those decisions are strictly personal. "Songbird" is a five-disc box set just out on Rhino Records - four CDs and one DVD, a 78-track retrospective.
(Soundbite of music)
HANSEN: It's not a collection of her greatest hits. She decided that she wanted songs that reflected memorable moments in her musical journey. The first track could be called her first step.
(Soundbite of song "Clocks")
Ms. EMMYLOU HARRIS (Singer; Songwriter): (Singing) Old brown clock ticking on my shelf. Take my mind to someplace else. Little gold clock ticking by my bed. Funny little people dancing 'round my head.
HANSEN: That's the tune called "Clocks," an unreleased outtake from Emmylou Harris' solo debut recording Gliding Bird from 1969. Emmylou Harris is in the Blackbird Studios in Nashville, Tennessee.
Welcome - I should say welcome back. It's been a while since we spoke.
Ms. HARRIS: That's right, Liane. It's good to talk to you again.
HANSEN: I guess the main question before we hear you play, because you're in the studio with your guitar, why not do a greatest hits? Why, I mean, this is called Rare Tracks and Forgotten Gems.
Ms. HARRIS: Well the thing is, I've been making records for so long and some of the tracks - they don't necessarily translate to the live shows for whatever reason, but they were special moments in the studio. Songs that I loved enough to learn and go in and record. So that was the - really the purpose of the first two CDs, of picking kind of I call them my little orphans from my own solo releases.
And then where I really started having fun was on the third and fourth CDs because I was able to get stuff from collaborations with other people and outtakes and live takes and things that people might've never heard before. But I figured it was time to showcase some things that maybe people might've glossed over including myself.
HANSEN: You're going to play a song for us that is actually not from a studio recording, but this is a live concert. It's called "The Pearl." And this is a song that you wrote.
Ms. HARRIS: Yes. This is a song that I wrote and it actually did appear in a studio version on an album called Red Dirt Girl.
(Soundbite of song "The Pearl")
Ms. HARRIS: (Singing) O the dragons are gonna fly tonight. They're circling low and inside tonight. It's another round in the losing fight. Out along the great divide tonight. We're aging soldiers in an ancient war. Seeking out some half remembered shore. We drink our fill and still we thirst for more. Asking if there's no heaven what is this hunger for?
Our path is worn our feet are poorly shod. We lift up our prayer against the odds. And fear the silence is the voice of God, of God, of God. And we cry Hallelujah, hallelujah. We cry Hallelujah.
Sorrow is constant and the joys are brief. The seasons come and bring no sweet relief. Time is a brutal but a careless thief. Who takes our lot but leave behind the grief.
It is the heart that kills us in the end. Just one more old broken bone that cannot mend as it was now and ever shall be amen, amen, amen. And we cry Hallelujah. Hallelujah. We cry Hallelujah.
So there'll be no guiding light for you and me. We are not sailors lost out on the sea. We were always headed toward eternity hoping for a glimpse of Galilee.
Like a falling stars in the universe we are hurled down through the long loneliness of the world. Until we behold the pain become the pearl, the pearl, the pearl. Cryin´ Hallelujah. Hallelujah. We cry Hallelujah. We cry Hallelujah. Hallelujah. We cry Hallelujah. We cry Hallelujah. Hallelujah. We cry Hallelujah.
HANSEN: "The Pearl" written by Emmylou Harris and performed by Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller.
Is un-issued songs that are on your box set, I just have to ask, when a song that you particularly love doesn't end up getting included on the piece or the album that you're working on, do you almost mourn it? Do you grieve over it?
Ms. HARRIS: Usually if it's really good, you know, it's going to end up somewhere. But there are a lot of - were a lot of interesting projects that were just scattered everywhere and you just want to be able to collect them and make them available to people. There's a song that…
HANSEN: Yeah. I think you're going to introduce it, why don't you do that.
Ms. HARRIS: This is probably the rarest of the rare. Guy Clark is a dear friend of mine and a wonderful artist - singer-songwriter but - anyway, this is a song called "Immigrant Eyes." We're going to try it here. Just for you, Liane.
HANSEN: Oh, and everyone listening, Emmylou.
(Soundbite of "Immigrant Eyes")
Ms. HARRIS: (Singing) Oh, Ellis Island was swarming like a scene from a costume ball decked out in the colors of Europe and on fire with the hope of it all. My father's own father stood huddled with the tired and the hungry and scared. Twentieth century pilgrims bound by the dream that they shared. They were standing in lines just like cattle roped and sorted and shoved. Some were one desk away from sweet freedom, some were torn from someone they love. Through this sprawling tower of Babel came a young man confused and alone. Determined and bound for America and carrying everything that he owned.
Sometimes when I look in my grandfather's immigrant eyes, I see that day reflected and I can't hold my feelings inside. I see starting with nothing and working hard all of his life. So don't take it for granted say grandfather's immigrant eyes.
Now he rocks and stares out the window, but his eyes are still just as clear. As the day he sailed through the harbor and come ashore on the island of tears. My grandfather's days are numbered, but I won't let his memory die. He gave me the gift of this country and the look in his immigrant eyes.
Sometimes when I look in my grandfather's immigrant eyes, I see that day reflected, I can't hold my feelings inside. I see starting with nothing and working hard all of his life. So don't take it for granted my grandfather's immigrant eyes. No don't take it for granted say grandfather's immigrant eyes.
HANSEN: Well done. A command performance for the WEEKEND EDITION Sunday.
Ms. HARRIS: A command performance.
HANSEN: I know. Who would have known waking up on a Sunday morning and get an exclusive performance by Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller? You're going to leave us with a song called "Boy From Tupelo."
Ms. HARRIS: Yes.
HANSEN: And we want the chance for that song to play out. So, is there anything you want to say about it?
Ms. HARRIS: "Boy From Tupelo" isn't - not so cleverly disguised reference to Elvis Presley. It's a song about saying goodbye. And Elvis being sort of if you just listen to the song titles he knew everything there was to know about love. So, it's kind of like the towel of Elvis…
(Sounbite of laughter)
Ms. HARRIS: …singing about getting on with one's life.
HANSEN: And before we hear it, let me just thank you, Emmylou Harris with Buddy Miller in Blackbird Studios in Nashville. Our thanks to Alan Dittop(ph), the engineer there, and Andy Rosenberg(ph) the engineer here at NPR headquarters in D.C.
Emmylou Harrison's new release, a 78-song retrospective of her career in a box set is available on Rhino Records. It's called "Songbird: Rare Tracks and Forgotten Gems."
Thank you so much for taking the time this early in the day to sing and play for us, Emmylou.
Ms. HARRIS: Thank you so much, Liane.
(Soudbite of song, "Boy From Tupelo")
Ms. HARRIS: (Singing) You don't love me this I know. Don't need a Bible to tell me so. I hung around a little too long. I was good but now I'm gone.
Like the buffalo, that boy from Tupelo, any way the wind can blow that's where I'm gonna go. I'll be gone like a five and dime. It'll be the perfect crime. Just ask the boy from Tupelo. He's the king and he oughta know.
The shoulder I've been leanin' on is the coldest place I've ever known. There's nothin' left for me round here. Looks like it's time to disappear.
Like the buffalo, that boy from Tupelo, the old wall down in Jericho, Maybelle on the radio. I'll be gone like the five and dime it'll be the perfect crime. Just ask the boy from Tupelo he's the king and he oughta know.
You don't love me this I know. Don't need a Bible to tell me so. But it's a shame and it's a sin. Everything I coulda been to you.
Your last chance Texaco, sweetheart of the rodeo, a Juliet to your Romeo, the border you cross into Mexico. I'll never understand why or how, oh, but baby its too late now. Just ask the boy from Tupelo, he's the king and he oughta know.
HANSEN: You can hear Emmylou Harris perform the title song of her new box set exclusively at npr.org/music.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.