1998: Emmylou Harris - Spyboy

Emmylou Harris has lived many musical lives: muse, country superstar, professional singing partner, rock star. Spyboy, an out-of-print live record, exposes a cross-section of Harris’ career. For this reason, it is jarring and uneven, and despite highlighting many professional peaks for the singer, you have to wonder: why the hell was Spyboy -- essentially a live greatest hits album -- released?

Spyboy came out in the wake of Wrecking Ball, which was something of a creative resurgence for Harris; it revealed that, while primarily known as a country singer, she simply likes a good song. So it is on Spyboy, which begins with the lovely Jesse Winchester ballad “My Songbird.” The band then launches into “Where Will I Be,” a dark but hopeful rock song from Wrecking Ball, and it’s to Harris’ great credit that she sounds equally at home in both styles. The audience doesn’t seem to mind, either.

Put simply, the best songs on Spyboy are the ones with the sweetest melodies: the intimate “Prayer In Open D,” the flat-out gorgeous “Green Pastures,” “Calling My Children Home” (sung a cappella by Harris and her band), and “Love Hurts,” that old chestnut Harris once sang with frequent partner Gram Parsons. With fellow Byrd and Flying Burrito Brother Chris Hillman, Parsons also wrote “Wheels,” a song Harris performs here as if it’s always been hers.

Although Spyboy is a live album, it would still be a fine introduction for Emmylou Harris beginners. It’s a sonic résumé -- a “look-what Emmylou-Harris-can-do” record that shows off the singer’s many talents. Though she tends to get attention for That Voice, it could be argued that Harris’ greatest strength is arranging and picking songs (she’s not a bad songwriter, either).

However, this is still very much a live album, the type of record that, unless containing versions that differ from their studio brethren, nobody likes. So it's easy to imagine why Spyboy, despite some moments of greatness, went out of print. Harris fans likely bought it out of curiosity, then sold it or lost it, and went on their merry way.

At least the album ends on a high note with “The Maker.” Though it lasts eight minutes, the song is fleeting, doubtlessly swept along by That Voice, but mostly by those years of experience. It caps off a record that no one needs, but it still feels perfect.

1. My Songbird
2. Where Will I Be
3. I Ain’t Living Long Like This
4. Love Hurts
5. Green Pastures
6. Deeper Well
7. Prayer In Open D
8. Calling My Children Home
9. Tulsa Queen
10. Wheels
11. Born To Run
12. Boulder To Birmingham
13. All My Tears (Be Washed Away)
14. The Maker


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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