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Red Dirt Girl

The Songs
Articles and interviews
Nonesuch press release

Emmylou Harris on "Red Dirt Girl" (Nonesuch, PRCD 300245/2-4-79616)

1. "The Pearl" Emmylou Harris
I think this lyric is dealing with depression and angst and mortality. But I know that the place the song was going to get to was that there has to be a reason for the pain that everyone experiences. And I was so taken with the image of the pain that the oyster must go through with the grain of sand inside that becomes a pearl. That is the metaphor-your pain ultimately becomes something beautiful.

2. "Michelangelo" Emmylou Harris
This song came to me in a dream. I read a lot and I find myself very moved by language. There's almost a direct steal in this lyric by Carl Sandburg. I just kinda rewrote it. One of my favorite things about the recording is that is that it is a one-take vocal with just the three of us on the track-Malcolm Burn, Ethan Johns, and me.

3. "I Don't Want To Talk About It Now" (Title changed from "Go Down") Emmylou Harris/Jill Cunniff/Daryl Johnson
Jill Cunniff of Luscious Jackson was my co-writer on this. When we were cutting this song Jill and Daryl thought, "This song needs a bridge." I thought I was finished with it, but it did need something else and they came up with all those chord changes that really lifted it up. She took it to another level. Malcolm added that telephone sound. I brought Julie Miller down to do some singing. I needed something different and she nailed it down with those "answering" vocals.

4. "Tragedy" Emmylou Harris/Rodney Crowell
Those harmony vocals are Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen. They were in New Orleans performing. I loved Patti's album ("Rumble Doll") and thought it was terribly overlooked. So I wanted to get her on my record. It turned out that they had the next day off after the concert. So they came over.

5. "Red Dirt Girl" Emmylou Harris
I think this was hovering over the highway and I "drove over it." I am very, very inspired by the sound of words, and the names of places are so melodic and beautiful. I was passing through Meridian on my way down to record in New Orleans and that's what started it. But what really took it over the edge for me was on a night off in New Orleans we went to see "Boys Don't Cry". It unnerved me, not only because of the violence and homophobia, but also because of the underlying theme of how trapped those young people were. We all come into this world with so much potential and so many dreams. Who knows why some people escape and other people don't? The key idea is in the lyric, "There won't be any mentions on The News of the World."

6. "My Baby Needs a Shepherd" Emmylou Harris
When I started the song I thought of it as "Irish", because of that "Too-rah-loo-rah-loo-rah". Then Ethan Johns started playing that Middle Eastern thing and the rhythm became very dynamic. It made it a mushc more powerful track that I had envisioned. And a better one. Otherwise it might have been a little too "Precious", maybe a little too Celtic.

7. "Bang the Drum Slowly" Emmylou Harris/Guy Clark
This is an elegy for my father, who died in '93. A couple of years afterward I was talking to (songwriter) Jamie O'Hara and said, "You know, I just feel the need to write about my dad. But I can't even get started. I have so many regrets because there are so many things that I could have learned from him that I didn't. Jamie said, "Just write that." I took the song to Guy Clark and he really helped me with the lyrics and inspired me to write more. Everything in the song is true. That's why it was so hard to write-I couldn't go into the realm of fiction or poetry. It all had to be true.

8. "J'ai Fait Tout" Emmylou Harris/Jill Cunniff
In French, this means, "I did everything I could." I came across this phrase and thought, "There's a song in there." So when Jill Cunniff came down to co-write with me, she had this melody and groove that we really liked and the French phrase worked with it. And off we went. That's not the most comfortable way for me to write, but by starting with the melody I think we came up with something that's a nice contrast to the rest of the things of the album.

9. "One Big Love" Patty Griffin
This is the only one I didn't write. Malcolm felt that this record needed a song that could just be enjoyed for its groove. And after I heard this track I knew he was right. It's a great groove.

10. "Hour of Gold" Emmylou Harris
That song was a poem for a long time. "The hour of gold/the hour of lead" is actually from the Psalms; I remembered it from a book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh that my mother had when I was a child. The track you hear is our original rough mix. We tried another one, but there was something surreal and almost scary about this one that we really loved.

11. "My Antonia" Emmylou Harris
I started it severl years ago, but put it aside because it was from a man's point of view. One day I got the idea to make it a conversation and the song just seemed to write itself. Well, then I had to pick a "leading man." I had just done a show with Dave Matthews and I loved the way we sounded together. And he did a simply beautiful job. He came up with a harmony on that chorus that really gave the song a second melody.

12. "Boy From Tupelo" Emmylou Harris
I think what I like best about it is that I always like to end a record with a song that's kind of like a "dot, dot, dot." To be continued. Tune in next time.


  • San Francisco Chronicle
  • Barnes and Noble
  • Jam!
  • USA Today
  • UK Telegraph
  • Newsweek
  • Salon
  • NY Times Magazine
  • Fresh Air (radio interview)


  • Stereophile
  • The Nation
  • Irish Times
  • LA Times
  • The Tennessean
  • Short takes

    Nonesuch release

    Nine-time Grammy Award-winning artist Emmylou Harris, whose remarkable career now spans more than three decades and 29 albums, has signed with Nonesuch Records. Harris's first Nonesuch recording, "Red Dirt Girl", will be released on September 12. It is her first solo studio recording since 1995's "Wrecking Ball".

    The new album is produced by Malcolm Burn, who previously worked with Harris engineering and mixing "Wrecking Ball", and features Buddy Miller on lead guitar; Daryl Johnson on bass and drums; Malcolm Burn on piano, guitar, and bass; and Ethan Johns on drums, guitar, and other miscellaneous instruments. Harris has written all but one of "Red Dirt Girl"'s 12 tracks, marking only the second time in her career that she has been so involved in the composition of an album. Dave Matthews sings a duet with Harris on the album and Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, and Patty Griffin also contribute vocals.

    Commenting on her new label and record, Harris says, "I take pride in my new association with Nonesuch, a label for whom I have great admiration. "Red Dirt Girl" is a very meaningful record for me. I've only written this much for an album once before-for "The Ballad of Sally Rose"-and I'm very pleased as well with what we have accomplished in the studio."

    David Bither, Senior Vice-President of Nonesuch Records, comments, "This is a significant signing for Nonesuch. We have had the privilege over many years to work with some of the most creative and influential artists and producers in music. This launches a new area of musical exploration for Nonesuch, and we are thrilled that Emmylou is the artist to open this door for us. It is an honor to work with an artist who has such a formidable body of work behind her, but who is now creating possibly the best music of her career." Excerpted from Emmy's updated Nonesuch biography is the following:

    When BILLBOARD honored Emmylou Harris with its prestigious "Century Award" last year, editor Timothy White praised the musician as a "truly venturesome, genre-transcending pathfinder." The aim of the award "is to acknowledge the uncommon excellence of an artist's still unfolding body of work."

    Both remarks apply to Harris's new album, "Red Dirt Girl". The collection is truly genre-transcending and it does, indeed, demonstrate that her creative powers continue to grow. Long admired for her talent as a song connoisseur, this recording reveals her evolution as a song poet, herself. It also marks her Nonesuch debut.

    "The 'Wrecking Ball' album I had done with Daniel Lanois (in 1995) was such a huge creative moment for me," Harris comments. "I found myself feeling so very empowered, but I also had the problem of what to do next. I knew I couldn't do 'Son of Wrecking Ball'; there was no way to compete with that record. The only thing I could bring to the next record that was totally different was my own songs. So I resolved to write."

    ...And somewhere along the way Emmylou Harris blossomed like a songwriter like never before.

    "Red Dirt Girl" shimmers with poetic imagery. Whether in the throes of the fevered obsession of "I Don't Want To Talk About It Now" or in the philosophical contemplation of "The Pearl", Harris has never been better as a song crafter. The stanzas in "Michelangelo" and "Boy From Tupelo" showcase her facility with language and dream-like images. "Bang the Drum Slowly" is an achingly moving elegy to her late father.

    The sonic textures on display her are equally enthralling. The album's title tune is tinted with her country music background, while "My Baby Needs a Shepherd" is like a medieval fable colored by Middle Eastern sounds. "Hour of Gold" and "J'ai Fait Tout" illustrate this album's dual nature as both a contemporary folk treasure and an alternative rock milestone. Patty Griffin's "One Big Love", the only non-original song on the album, has a masterful pop groove.

    It is a measure of her stature that a stellar cast assembled for the making of "Red Dirt Girl". It ranges from Americana star Buddy Miller to Luscious Jackson's Jill Cunniff. Harris refers to frequent collaborator Kate McGarrigle as "my sistah" and raves about the talents of Patty Griffin and Julie Miller. On the romance, "My Antonia", she is joined by duet partner Dave Matthews. The harmony vocals on the love lament, "Tragedy", are by Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen.

    "It doesn't get any better than this: To be sitting in a living room with them sitting just a chair away, singing live, doing it together," says Harris with a smile. "Patty and I started singing. Then Bruce started adding a third harmony part after we did our duet. God, what a sound."

    "The whole recording process was magical. I didn't want to abandon the steps I'd taken with 'Wrecking Ball'. I wanted to stay in that general direction because I loved the sound of that record. During those sessions, I had been so impressed by Malcolm Burn. It seemed like there was nothing he couldn't do. So we got together again last November. It was just me and Malcolm with Daryl Johnson (from Spyboy) and Ethan Johns (from the 'Western Wall' recording sessions). We did the whole record in Malcolm's house in New Orleans, in his living room."

    "Then for the second leg, in March, I came down and spent a week with just Malcolm and myself, working on a new batch of songs I'd finished. Later, we started adding other people to the tracks. Everyone was so generous with their time and energy," Harris said.

    Throughout her life, Emmylou Harris has reinvigorated music profoundly. She has served as the role model for a generation of younger performers. She is perhaps the most admired and infleuntial woman in contemporary country music, yet her scope extends far beyond it, as projects like "Red Dirt Girl" so vividly illustrate.

    "I don't think of myself as a leader," she demurs. "I don't like the pressure that goes with that word. I think if I've done anything, I've sonehow managed to survive doing exactly what I wanted to do. I think I got into music at a time that was very special. I was just successful enought to be given a license to do whatever I wanted and to be left alone.

    "I do thrive on this. I love playing music. I love the act of singing. And I love good songs. If the music didn't excite me, I would quit in a minute. Because I have to be inspired. With this new direction, I feel like have turned a corner, so I think I can ride this pony for awhile now. I needed something new, and this has shifted me into warp speed. All of a sudden, I'm at a place that I didn't even know existed before."

    European Press

    While I don't know the dates these interviews will appear, here's a list to keep an eye out for.

    Scotland - The RTE Guide - (Paddy Kehoe)

    Sweden - The Kvalisposten (Olie Berggren), The Dagens Nyheter (Georg Cederskorg), FLT (Stefan Karlsson), The Aftonbladet (Marcus Larsson)

    Denmark - The Extrabladet (Henrik Quetch), Jyllandsposten (Finn Smed Salholdt)

    Finland -The Holsingin Sanomat (Harri Uusitorppa), Iltasanomet (Paul Kostianien), The Soundl (Antti Martinen)

    Norway - The Dagbladet (Frederik Wandrup), NTB (Veronica Karlson)

    Germany - AGR - TV, VH-1, Live in Concert, Bild Hamburg

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