Review by Ken Beaton, April 23, 1998
I write this amateur review from the point of view of an interested listener and a fan of Emmylou Harris. That said, I think that Emmylou's best songs contain stories that draw the listener into the storyteller's world. With "Brand New Dance", she presents ten musical stories with a recurring theme. The pain and doubt surrounding love is explored in ten diverse song statements. The album opener, "Wheels of Love", a medium tempo tune, contains a wonderful blend of voice plus acoustic and electric guitar work. The statement is that love comes and goes as you travel along on life's highway. Because the song works so well on its own, it was released as a single in 1990. All the songs that follow concern statements about the heart, as the source of dreams, interspersed with love, sadness, and longing.
Arguably, "Rollin and Ramblin", The Death of Hank Williams, breaks with the stated theme. But here too love follows the singer – the rambler. But love from fans is insufficient to carry the rambler through. Perhaps some will hear in this song the precursor sound of the Nash Rambler interlude that followed.
The closer on this album is "Red Red Rose" a ballad reaffirming Emmylou's theme by using the red rose in particular – the rose a symbolic metaphor for love. "This love of ours is no common flower, This love is like a red, red rose". Is it possible that this song may have a double significance? Beyond the obvious connection to the words of the song, does this song explain the rose on Emmylou's guitar?
Some very accomplished musicians support Emmylou on this project although one of the things that strikes me about this album is its sparseness. All non-essential elements seem to be stripped away so that Emmylou's easy and comforting voice can work its magic – the listener overhears conversations between old friends and sometimes lovers. The sparseness is deliberate, I think, to emphasize the lyrical content. Nevertheless, special praise goes to Richard Bennett and Chris Leuzinger for their guitar highlights that echo the color and tone of each song. I always like the guitar work on Emmylou's records and I am never disappointed.
The album is tied to the themes of pain and loss that frequently follows in place of romantic love – these are very strong human emotions. Now I will go way out on a limb. Pay particular attention to the album photos and note that Emmylou wears a red poncho with black trim and a black hat. Possibly these color choices reflect back to the suggested color scheme -- love \ red and black \pain. OK, I could be wrong about this, but to me, there is a suggestion of continuity. It's a stretch but why not? Emmylou has advised in the past that her album material is chosen carefully for its personal appeal and significance. Therefore, we members of her audience are rewarded when we listen carefully. Emmylou chose ten songs which are diverse yet thematically coherent. Give this album a careful listen.
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