Her voice still sounds remarkably pure after a nearly 50-year career.
She has another great band even if you've never heard of any of the musicians before.
She has a sense of humor and a sense of humanity.
What was most impressive, however, about Emmylou Harris' enriching two-hour performance Wednesday night at the Ordway in St. Paul was her taste. It's flawless. She played two dozen songs and not one was worth omitting.
As a solo recording artist, Harris earned a deserved reputation as one of country music's most revered stylists. She later established herself as an Americana original, writing her own material. On Wednesday, she not only explored all facets of her career but almost all styles.
Harris saluted bluegrass (Bill Monroe), great Texas songwriters (Townes Van Zandt, Billy Joe Shaver, Steve Earle), Bob Dylan ("Every Grain of Sand," not a Dylan tune many singers interpret), Paul Simon ("The Boxer"), the McGarrigle Sisters ("Going Back to Harlan") and her early mentor and partner Gram Parsons (with "Ooh Las Vegas," and the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Wheels" and "Sin City").
Maybe Harris, 71, was at her finest doing songs she wrote. "Darlin' Kate" was a deeply personal salute to her friend Kate McGarrigle who was dying of cancer. "Red Dirt Girl" was an imaginary tale of a Southern gal. "My Name is Emmett Till," a true story, was her heartfelt dirge about a black kid from Chicago who was murdered in Mississippi while visiting relatives in 1955, a catalyst for the civil rights movement.
Nothing was more touching than her encore number of 1975's "Boulder to Birmingham," a heartbreaking reflection on her life with Parsons before he died of an overdose.
Harris was consistently outstanding on ballads. "Goodbye" was a wistful winner, and her bluegrassy version of "The Boxer" may have been less purposeful than Joan Baez's earlier this month in Minneapolis but no less potent. Harris also sparkled on the up-tempo tunes including "Ooh Las Vegas."
Don't overlook the pure bluegrass numbers, especially the gospelly a cappella "Calling My Children Home," which prompted Harris to mention immigrant children in Texas separated from their parents. She didn't hesitate to get a little political, urging people to vote and talking about how America needs good candidates like Robert Kennedy.
Harris also exercised her funny bone, pointing out that in-ear monitors that singers wear are perfect for narcissists who like to hear only themselves. At one point, the silver-haired singer joked that one tune was from back in her brunette period. And after she tripped while leaving the stage at show's end, Harris returned for another song, declaring, "I came back so I can make a more graceful exit. They call me Grace."
Grace, er, Harris, was in good voice all night. Sounding less reedy than in her earlier years, her voice has retained its purity, vulnerability and beauty. She might have missed a high note or two, and her voice faded out a couple of times, but her voice was full and strong.
Harris' five-man band was consistently excellent, with seasoning from guitar, piano, mandolin and fiddle helping to frame her versatile repertoire. One complaint, though: Eamon McLoughlin's fiddle was too often too loud.
A few times during the evening Harris mentioned how many years she's been on the road and how she appreciated the longtime support. However, it had been quite some time she'd given a proper solo concert in Twin Cities. Three years ago, she did a duo concert with Rodney Crowell and, in 2006, she shared a bill with Mark Knopfler.
Hearing Harris — a Country Music Hall of Famer and 14-time Grammy winner — survey her long career for a triumphant two hours served as a reminder of what a great American musical treasure she is.