"I use the term 'a string of pearls' because one song suggests another," Emmylou Harris says of her new box set, Songbird (Rhino). While most such sets are collections of greatest hits, Songbird is more like greatest-songs-that-got-away, including B sides, outtakes, and unheralded collaborations with artists from Willie Nelson to Beck. "The creative process is carried forward one song at a time," Harris says, her voice sweetly hinting at its famous vibrato. "This shows you the journey." Much of her favorite music was originally recommended by friends, and she's determined to keep spreading the word. "Shout it from the rooftops!" she says. "You want people to have the same experience that you had."
Ginny Hawker, Letters from My Father (Rounder): "We have a saying in the South that something is as real as dirt, and that's how she is. She sings from the heart. It's old-time music, from bluegrass to country to folk; she does a traditional called 'The Palace Grand' that I find heartbreaking. I ordered five copies so I could give it out."
Porter Wagoner, Wagonmaster (Anti): "Hearing this record reminded me why I love country music: It's real and in your face. Porter Wagoner came on the scene fully formed as Porter Wagoner, and he hasn't really changed. They haven't tried to make him modern, to make him rock 'n' roll, to make him hip by adding some out-there instrument. He just is."
Jessie Mae Hemphill, Get Right Blues (Inside Sounds): "She was a blues singer, guitarist, and percussionist from Como, Mississippi. She did this great percussion stuff where she put a tambourine on her foot and Native American bells on her ankles. I thought she was from the '30s, but she was contemporary. I'm so sorry I had to come to her after she passed."
The Band, The Band (Capitol): "With those three vocalists—Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Richard Manuel—they're just the most extraordinary band that this country has ever produced. How can you feel bad when you hear 'Up on Cripple Creek'? But I love the slow, sad songs too—I've made a career out of singing them."