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Emmylou Harris Saves Lives with Bonaparte's Retreat

Polished Steel spoke with Emmylou Harris last week about Bonaparte's Retreat, her independent Nashville dog rescue. Here the legendary singer tells the story behind how her organization took shape:

“I had a dog named Bonaparte, who was a rescue from a local shelter. I had never taken a dog on the road with me, but when I first got him I had to take a trip down to Birmingham. I thought, Well, I'll just take him with me. He was a great road dog. He loved to travel and was great with people and wasn't a barker. He traveled with me for ten years then he became ill and died very suddenly in 2002. I had other pets in the house, other rescue cats and rescue dogs, but he was kind of my guy who was with me all the time and slept in my room.

“I didn't really think about getting another companion dog, but I've always had an affinity for animals. I come by it naturally, I guess. My father studied veterinary medicine before he joined the marine corps. All my family are dog people. I have this big back yard and I started thinking that maybe I could have a satellite to the local (Nashville) rescue. I could take a few animals. So, Bonaparte's Retreat is in my back yard and we have about four dogs. We partner with Metro Animal Control and usually take the bigger, older dogs who have been there. We started taking the dogs next in line for euthanasia and we gradually got a few people in the community to start fostering. Bonaparte's Retreat is very small, but depending on how many fosters we have we can have a larger number of dogs.

“It's been an incredible thing for me to feel like I'm helping these animals who deserve a life. We created dogs as our companions and we depend on them for everything. We have a long way to go to take care of them. In other words, people don't spay and neuter their dogs and there are unwanted puppies and they end up on the street or they get euthanized. We're just one dog at a time.

“It's such a cause for celebration when we find a dog a home. Some dogs we might have for several years before we find the right place for them. The main thing is to get them out of danger so they won't be killed. There's no one at that moment. There are a lot of smaller rescues in Nashville and around the country. I think there's a movement on to stop basically this genocide that's happening.”


Polished Steel's Top 10 Albums of 2015

1. James McMurtry spins stories with a poet's pen (“Long Island Sound”) and a painter's precision (“She Loves Me”). Proof: The acclaimed songwriter's new Complicated Game. McMurtry's first collection in six years spotlights a craftsman in peak form (“She Loves Me,” “You Got to Me”). No question: Complicated Game remains the year's best by a long shot. Perfect straight through. 

2. Cold and Bitter Tears: The Song of Ted Hawkins marks the first tribute album to the soulful Venice Beach street performer, a legend overseas later in his lifetime but a songwriter largely overlooked in the States. High watermarks here: “Big Things” (James McMurtry), “Cold and Bitter Tears” (Kasey Chambers), “Sorry You're Sick” (Mary Gauthier). (Full disclosure: I was involved as co-producer.)

3. Kasey Chambers' Bittersweet delivers a dozen vivid vignettes both earthy (“Oh Grace”) and ethereal (“Is God Real?”). “It was a bit different for me,” the celebrated Australian singer-songwriter tells Polished Steel. “I've always worked with a lot of the same people on the production side. I just had this bunch of songs that I approached a different way.” The result: A seamless pop-rock collection.

4. The Bottle Rockets' South Broadway Athletic Club grinds (“Monday (Everytime I Turn Around)”) and grooves (“Big Lotsa Love”) with trademark velocity. “It's almost like eleven singles,” lead singer and songwriter Brian Henneman says. “I ended up writing almost every song on it because nobody else really had anything.” Lucky for listeners. Henneman's latest round showcases roots rock gold.

5. Shinyribs' Okra Candy backs fresh (“Donut Taco Palace”) and funky songs (“The Longer It Lingers”) with clever wordplay (“Pack-It-Rite”). “I started early in January of 2014 because I felt like the last record, Gulf Coast Museum, I was a little rushed,” Russell says. “This one I wanted to start early enough to where I'd have time to work on it.” Okra Candy proves few bands are hotter right now. 

6. The Haynes Boys' raucous self-titled album rocks ("Jackie") and rolls ("Guardian Angel") with welterweight fury. High watermarks absolutely combust (“The New Franklin County Woman”).“I'm super proud of the record,” bandleader Tim Easton says. “There's no way around it. I love the way it's loose and wild and a little bit drunken and a little bit fun.” More than a little. Buy now. 

7. Joe Ely's Panhandle Rambler backs razor-sharp originals (“Wounded Creek”) with an inspired cover (Guy Clark's “Magdalene”). Ely tells Polished Steel the story behind “Wounded Creek”: “I didn't want to tell the whole story. I tried to hint at it so (listeners) can paint their own story. I gave it a place and a couple characters and a lost dog and the rest can unwind in people's heads.” Songwriting at its finest.

8. Jamie Lin Wilson's Holidays & Wedding Rings deftly delivers songs both effortless (“Just Like Heartache”) and elegant (“Just Some Things”). Peaks showcase an already razor-sharp songwriter growing exponentially (“Seven Year Drought”). “It's always been on my radar to make a full-length record,” says Wilson, formerly of the Central Texas band The Trishas. We're glad she did. 

9. Steve Earle's Terraplane fortifies typically vibrant vignettes (“You're the Best Lover I Ever Had”) with deep blues (“Ain't Nobody's Daddy Now”). “The acoustic stuff on the record isn't really out of the ordinary,” Earle says. “ I mean, I saw Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin' Hopkins in the same room at the same time on more than one occasion.” Earle clearly learned lessons. Terraplane's a keeper. 

10. Ray Wylie Hubbard's The Ruffian's Misfortune backs barroom blues (“Down by the River”) with rich narratives (“Stone Blind Horses”). The combination works perfectly. “He has a style that just seems to roll out of him,” folk-rocker William Elliott Whitmore tells Polished Steel. “Those lyrics just seem to flow so effortlessly from him and they tell such concise story. It's just natural.” 

– Brian T. Atkinson