In Newport News Thursday, Emmylou Harris gave a Ferguson Center for the Arts crowd a sweet, soulful taste of her classic mongrel country sound.
Backed by her 5-piece band Red Dirt Boys, she touched on many of the styles and modes from her 40-plus years of recording, never landing too long on any one of them. Her 24-song, 1 hour and 45 minute show included the Gillian Welch tune "Orphan Girl," as well as "Two More Bottles of Wine," "Luxury Liner," and the Chris Hillman-Gram Parsons nugget "Wheels."
She also did "My Name is Emmett Till" and "Big Black Dog" from her latest album, "Hard Bargain."
Other highlights included a stunning, a cappella reading of "Calling My Children Home" and the playful bounce of "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight."
Harris' voice has changed over the decades. Her upper range isn't as pure and clear as it was in her youth. Plenty of power and grace still reside elsewhere, though. Her singing, raspy in places, still contains a blue streak a mile wide. She never failed to deliver an emotional punch.
"Bang the Drum Slowly," about her late father, was both somber and beautiful. The Buck Owens classic "Together Again" radiated unbridled joy.
It was great to see a full set from Harris, a singer whose long career has been built on integrity, creativity and soul.