by Ed Simons
I consider "Wrecking Ball" as an absolute masterpiece and highlight, not only in Emmylou's career, but in today's music in general. I can't find a single weak point or song on it: on the contrary, it is a constant flow of modern music at the highest level. To me it is undoubtfully one of the (perhaps THE) best CD releases of the last decade. The impression it made on me can only be compared with what I felt when, twenty years ago, I heard her first solo- albums "Pieces of the Sky" and "Elite Hotel", which at that time represented the perfect marriage between the special feel of country music and (the) emotion-driven and poetical oriented pop music (of that era). Now, twenty years later, she has done it again, and in an equally, perhaps even more, convincing way. Twenty years ago the emphasis was on the country-side of this wedding, now it clearly lies on the pop-side. I have the impression that Emmylou, for herself, wanted to break through or tear down the false and one- dimensional image that has grown through the years, of her being solely a country-music star and adept. Anyone who who "knows" or "feels" Emmylou, must have been aware of the fact that it could only be a matter of time before she would come with this sort of musical statement. I suppose the making and releasing of "Wrecking Ball" must have been a relief to her and must have brought her innerly rest and a feeling of being true to herself.
Discussion as to whether "Wrecking Ball" is country-music or not, or as to
whether she has "betrayed" or "forsaken" her fans are irrelevant to me.
It might not be country music, but it "sure as hell" is 100% Emmylou music.
Wrecking Ball Reviews
Bob Dylan newsgroup
Emmylou Harris “Every Grain Of Sand” Wrecking Ball Elektra 61854
Over the course of twenty years and fifteen albums, Emmylou Harris has constructed a reputation as one of the queens of country and bluegrass music. As the title of her latest album, “Wrecking Ball”, implies, Harris has set out to dismantle all that she has built, smashing preconceptions as she goes. Working with producer Daniel Lanois (and guests like Neil Young, Steve Earle, The McGarrigles and U2's Larry Mullen), Harris has created an album that is neither rock nor country. Like Johnny Cash’s most recent release, Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” and Dylan’s “Oh Mercy” (also produced by Lanois), “Wrecking Ball” exists in a smoky dreamworld. Within this context, Lanois refuses to gussy up Harris’ voice with reverb or other studio tricks; the result presents her voice at its best, plaintive but powerful. Original compositions like “Deeper Well” add to the album’s Twilight Zone quality, sounding like antique folk songs yet modern, too. Amidst all this moodiness, Emmylou’s cover of “Every Grain Of Sand” comes off sounding downright cheery. Though the composition has elicited its share of epiphanies, it’s a difficult song to deliver without sounding saccharine (see Nana Mouskouri’s version) but it works beautifully here. Emmylou’s tender voice, coupled with Lanois’ simple arrangement, makes it shine. A-.
Thanks for listening.
M.A.Zingg Providence, RI.
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Dallas Morning News
"Wrecking Ball' the most experimental album of Emmylou Harris' career
By Mario Tarradell
On first listen, you won't recognize her. And if you do, you'll wonder what possessed her.
Emmylou Harris, country's silvery-voiced visionary, has recorded the most experimental album of her 20-year career. "Wrecking Ball," a dark, moody collaboration with producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Peter Gabriel), demolishes her rootsy undertones and transports her into alternative rock territory.
That's a grand statement for a woman who frequently stretched the boundaries of country by venturing into folk, rock, gospel and zydeco. She once took Donna Summer's disco chestnut "On the Radio" and transformed it into an achingly beautiful ballad.
But she's never tackled anything like "Wrecking Ball."
Recorded live in Nashville and New Orleans with two core session bands consisting of Lanois, Malcolm Burn, U2's Larry Mullen Jr., Brian Blades and the Neville Brothers' Tony Hall, the album includes songs by Harris contemporaries Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams and Rodney Crowell. She also plunges into material by rock icons Bob Dylan ("Every Grain of Sand"), Neil Young (the title track) and Jimi Hendrix ("May This Be Love").
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For a moment, forget the fresh-faced interpreter of pop hits like "Save the Last Dance" for "Me and Mister Sandman." Get the influential leader of the bluegrass-based Hot Band out of your mind. Erase the perfume-and-lace songbird who presented 1987's "Trio" project with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt.
Now, think about Suzanne Vega's 1992 album, "99.9F Degrees," a clangy departure helmed by Mitchell Froom. Then slow down the pace and trade the metallic sound effects of that album for brooding nuances. (END OPTIONAL TRIM)
"I do think it's not such a drastic departure in the sense that I have never done anything but country material in a traditional country way, and then, all of a sudden I would make this record," says Harris by phone from the Nashville office of Asylum Records. "Certainly, this is a natural move for me, but there is an overall sound to this record that is different from anything else I have done, and that is due to the presence of Daniel Lanois. He made it rougher and rockier and a little rustier and moodier and still kept it very musical."
To his credit, Lanois never lost Harris' sterling voice in the mix. Throughout the album's 12 tunes, Harris remains an integral part of the project. Even on a song such as "Deeper Well," a piece drowning in minor chords, tribal drum beats and booming guitar riffs, we still hear Harris' reverberating vocal performance.
"That song really eluded us," she says of "Deeper Well." "We cut it three different ways. Just by studio accidents and letting the magic sort of happen, we ended up with a pretty unusual reading of the song."
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On the opening track, "Where Will I Be," a Lanois composition that sounds like an outtake from a U2 album, Harris passionately wails over a swirling blend of drums, keyboards and guitars. Clearly, this song works because singer and producer were in synch.
"It was very comfortable; we just sang and played together," she says of her studio time with Lanois. "I just basically sort of trusted what he was doing because everything that I had heard him do was so interesting and different but it had the common denominator, which was his sound." (END OPTIONAL TRIM)
Collaborations have long been an integral part of Emmylou Harris' musical growth, from her beginnings with charismatic coun-try-rock pioneer Gram Parsons to her star-studded Hot Band (the training ground for Ricky Skaggs and Rodney Crowell) to 1993's eclectic masterpiece, "Cowgirl's Prayer."
"For me, the collaborative aspect of music has always been a driving force," she says. "You play off of people. I am inspired by working with different people, people who have a different musical point of view, something unique to bring."
That mind-set led her to Daniel Lanois.
"When the bug was put in my ear from Asylum Records to think about working with someone else, I was asked if there was any producer that I wanted to work with if I had my choice," she says. "I immediately said Daniel Lanois, even though I don't think I really consciously thought that was something that would happen."
They first met last December and, by January, they were in the studio experimenting with songs and sounds for the album.
"I played him some songs that I was thinking about doing to sort of let him know the type of material, and he liked the stuff," she says. "Then we got together for about a week before we went in the studio and just slammed some songs around getting some ideas, going over some of the material that I had played earlier and some ideas that he had."
The new album is being targeted to triple A (album adult alternative) radio, not mainstream country or pop outlets. It may face some resistance: "Wrecking Ball" is too musically adventurous even for the most enlightened program director. But, at this point in her career, radio airplay is no longer Harris' major concern.
"Well, it doesn't really matter, in the sense that I am going to continue making records and going out and playing live," she says. "... It's always going to be a fact of life that the narrow airplay does drive the industry, and I think it is important, but we need the alternative format to exist alongside the more narrow Top 40 format. There is a decent share of the market that is searching for something different."
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