Anyone who knows me should know that I love old school country music. I especially love listening to timeless country albums from back in the day that hammer home my belief that the soulless bubble gum pop in cowboy hats being passed off by major labels as "country" today is nothing but fraudulent garbage. This is one of those albums.
First off let me start by saying that Emmylou Harris could sit in a studio and read the phone book and I would probably listen to it at least once. She's one of my all-time favorite female artists and from 1975 to about 1981 or so she put out a string of albums that are untouched by any of her peers. One of those albums is 1980's Roses In The Snow. It was her seventh studio album (technically 8th if you count the Holiday album she cut in 1979) and part of what many critics have dubbed the "Roots Trilogy" along with the aforementioned Holiday album and this album's predecessor Blue Kentucky Girl. 1980 was a strange time for country music. All the work artists like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings had done the previous decade to give country music it's spine back was about to be undone by the whole "Urban Cowboy" movement. Once again country music would be considered accessible by mainstream critics and record buyers and suddenly guys like Johnny Lee were burning up the pop charts. (Side note - I still love the movie itself. Urban Cowboy is just good, campy fun.) In the midst of this polishing and glossing over of the scene however stood Emmylou Harris making throw-back traditional country albums and to an even crazier extent a bluegrass record - Roses In The Snow.
To say it's anything but a bluegrass record would be a disservice to those who participated on this album - and there are some serious luminaries on this album. Willie Nelson supplies guitar lead on one track, Johnny Cash is singing baritone on "Jordan" and all the main male vocal accompaniments were handled by bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs. Plus Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt also contributed backing vocals. Pretty impressive group of back-up performers. Where Blue Kentucky Girl explored Harris' love of traditional country, this album is an homage to her love of traditional bluegrass music complete with all the accouterments you would find on albums by the likes of the Louvin Brothers or the Carter Family - both of whom she covers on this album. This is the Warner Bros./Rhino reissue which includes two bonus tracks. I mention this because one of the bonus tracks, "Root Like A Rose" is one of the best songs on the album and probably should have been included the first time around. You don't have to be a bluegrass fan to love and appreciate this album at all but it's highly recommended for anyone who considers themselves a fan of early roots/Americana music.