Maryland 1974 [no label 2CD Torrent: 70742]
Live at Red Fox Inn, Bethesda, Maryland, May 8, 1974. Recorded after Gram Parson's death but just prior to recording Pieces Of The Sky. According to a Goldmine article, Harris' first producer recorded this show on a handheld cassette machine to bring home and listen. GD+ AUD mono? Some dropouts on the original cassette.

For anybody with an eye for Emmylou Harris’ history, this is one of the holy grails - the cassette recording that Canadian producer Brian Ahern made, the first time he saw the newly-signed Angel Band. "We sat at a table in the Red Fox Inn," he recalled, "and recorded four sets of Emmylou and her band with my portable Uher cassette machine."

Those origins are not hard to miss. The sound quality here is nothing you’d want to listen to too often, although it’s still a helluva lot better than, say, the Velvet Underground’s similarly sourced Live At Max’s, and it’s in stereo as well. Harris is in fine form, and the Angel Band - which, at that time, included old friend Tom Guidera and pedal steel player Danny Pendleton - builds the perfect backing for the mix of country classics, Gram Parsons favorites and occasional covers that were Harris’ repertoire at the time. A handful of songs destined for her debut album are included - "Queen of the Silver Dollar," "Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down" and "Satan’s Jewel Crown"; there’s a haunting "Hickory Wind" and "Together Again," and a rocking "Shop Around" that blueprints the show-stopping storm that remained in her repertoire deep into the decade. Remarkable, too, is the sheer energy of the proceedings - four sets, 29 songs, and not only is there scarcely any repetition, there’s no sign of the enthusiasm flagging, either. As the last notes of the closing "Country Baptizin’" fade, it would be no surprise at all to hear the band kick into their performance all over again.

Ultimately, this set’s greatest value is as an historical artefact - again, the sound quality sees to that. But still it’s a fascinating listen, and one of the most important documents of the young Emmylou that is currently available. Very few people outside of her immediate neighborhood got to see the unsigned Angel Band, and we’ve had to trust their hearsay about how good they were. Now we can find out for ourselves. - Dave Thompson

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September 29, 2006