Emmylou Harris, in the moment

from Los Angeles Times on

Emmylou Harris is trailed by a ragtag parade of eager dogs when she answers a knock at the door of the comfortable two-story home on a fenceless parcel a few miles from downtown Nashville, where she lives with her 89-year-old mother, Eugenia.

The singer and songwriter greets a visitor with the same unguarded openness with which she has welcomed in a steady stream of abandoned, abused or otherwise homeless canines as part of the Bonaparte's Retreat animal rescue operation she's run for the last several years.

Emmylou Harris: An April 24 Arts & Books profile of singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris listed the title of a song on her new album, "Hard Bargain," as "The Ballad of Emmett Till." The correct title is "My Name Is Emmett Till." —

One of them, Bella, is a large, gentle mutt who is the subject of "Big Black Dog," one of the songs from Harris' forthcoming album "Hard Bargain," her first in nearly three years. It's a lighthearted yet sincere ode to the loyalty and unconditional love that she prizes about her work with her animal companions.

"We probably give them too many human qualities, but they inhabit a world we might never understand. That's one of the reasons they can help us be more human," she says, settling into a small sofa in an upstairs bedroom she's converted into a music room. It's one of a couple of spaces at home where she likes to write.

Sheets of paper with lyrics are nearby on a music stand, a raft of guitars rest a few feet away, poised to assist when inspiration strikes. The walls around the stairway that leads to her workspace are adorned with family photos; inside her office are framed pictures and artwork of a smattering of the musicians — Johnny Cash and June Carter, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Gram Parsons — she's worked with over a recording career that now spans more than four decades since her largely unheralded debut album, "Gliding Bird," yet another animal allusion in her long, distinguished career.

"From the time you're born until the end of your life, I think they are our dearest companions," says Harris, her white-silver hair pulled up through a black scrunchie into a pony tail. She's wearing a comfortable black sweater, stylish scarf and knockabout thick black pants on a cool spring day during which the area is under the specter of tornado warnings.

An interaction with an animal is far less complicated than a relationship with another human. The latter are at the heart of Harris' new songs examining life from her perspective at 64. Married and divorced three times, she sings with more surprise than lament in "Nobody" and

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