Reprise MS 2236
Released: January 1976
Chart Peak: #25
Weeks Charted: 23
Certified Gold: 7/27/78
Elite Hotel almost duplicates the formula established by Emmylou Harris and producer Brian Ahern on her successful Warner Bros. debut, Pieces of the Sky. Like Pieces, Elite contains three ballads with string orchestration, a Beatles song, an original tune and a mix of country standards and her broadly appealing country-rock material. Though the backup of fine country musicians has changed somewhat, key players James Burton (lead guitar) and Glen Hardin (piano) remain.
Harris sings like a more ethereal and fragile Linda Ronstadt, her voice perpetually on the edge of tears. It is a very affecting instrument, especially on ballads like Buck Owen's "Together Again," Rodney Crowell's "Till I Gain Control Again," Lennon and McCartney's "Here, There and Everywhere" and the traditional "Satan's Jewel Crown," where Harris's polished phrasing and impeccable intonation enhance the already melodious material.
This distinction is particularly apparent in Harris's handling of material by the late Gram Parsons. Her reprise of "Ooh Las Vegas," which she sang with Parsons on Grievous Angel, though winningly exuberant, sounds glib compared to Parsons's idiosyncratic vocal. The same holds for her treatment of two excellent Parson-Chris Hillman songs, "Wheels" and "Sin City," highlights of the Burrito Brothers' The Gilded Palace of Sin. Where the Burritos' versions projected an ongoing personal battle with the cosmos, Harris lends them only a honeyed sadness.
Brian Ahern's production is so knowledgeable that the several cuts recorded live are distinguishable from the studio tracks only by applause. With the exception of a Mystic Moods Orchestra-style interlude in "Here, There and Everywhere," the arrangements are scrupulously tasteful, and the playing by Burton, Hardin, Hank diVito, John Ware and others maintains the highest professional standards. If Elite Hotel comes close to musical perfection, it is because of the refinement of a listenable, occasionally compelling formula.
- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 2/26/76.
- Billboard, 1976.
This flows better than the first, but it also makes clear that Emmylou is just another pretty voice, a country singer by accident. I mean, Linda Ronstadt has the best female voice in country music, and even she doesn't satisfy the way an original like Dolly Parton or Loretta Lynn does. And since there's not a cover version here that equals the prototype, all she accomplishes with her good taste in material is to send you scurrying for the sources. I prefer Donna Fargo. Not Lynn Anderson, though. C+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Picking up the torch from her late partner, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris defined the country-rock hybrid of the 70s and 80s. Here she presents her own versions of the Parsons classics "Sin City" and "Wheels," gives a boost to up-and-comer Rodney Crowell, and even covers The Beatles, all in her heartbreaking voice and backed by a group of session stars soon aptly named "The Hot Band." * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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