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Emmylou Harris

Wrecking Ball (reissue) – 2014 (Nonesuch)

Reviewed by Greg Yost

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CDs by Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris' "Wrecking Ball" was a real game changer for the revered singer/songwriter. Although she had long been known for her progressive take on country music, Harris redefined her sound on this 1995 album thanks to her collaboration with producer Daniel Lanois.

Lanois, who came to prominence thanks to his production work on seminal albums from U2, Peter Gabriel, Robbie Robertson and Bob Dylan, presented Harris in an entirely new way by enveloping her always impressive voice with a textured cloak of sound that was at once dark and warm. This approach resulted in a haunting and inviting collection that was heralded by both fans and critics and is likely to be remembered as one of the defining moments in Harris' long and storied career.

To help bring the unique Harris/Lanois vision to life, the team brought some amazing talent to the studio. Neil Young, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams and Kate and Anna McGarrigle all make appearances, while U2's Larry Mullen Jr. played drums throughout.

"Wrecking Ball" is truly a memorable and noteworthy recording on so many different levels, and Nonesuch has done a great job honoring its legacy with this two-CD/DVD Deluxe Edition set.

In addition to remastering the original 12 tracks, there is a second CD with 13 outtakes. The majority of songs on this disc are stripped down acoustic versions of the songs with Lanois' atmospheric touches removed. Frequently studio outtakes round out completists' collections while giving hardcore fans a warts-and-all glimpse into a song's genesis, but they don't usually stand on their own. That's not the case here. The "Wrecking Ball" outtakes give us a nice before and after view of the magic produced during these sessions.

For example, look at the two disparate takes on Jimi Hendrix's "May This Be Love." The album version, with its heavy electric fuzz drone, is one of the most obvious examples of Lanois' contributions, while the acoustic version on the outtakes disc, which features duet vocals from Harris and Lanois, is a much more subtle affair.

Lanois' touch is not always this heavy handed. Take, for example, the two versions of Julie Miller's "All My Tears." By simply adding some spacey keyboard bass flourishes and a distant electric guitar solo, both of which are way back in the mix, and an eerie vocal chant on the chorus, Lanois uses mood to elevate the entire song.

Even though the overall feel of the finished product is ultimately more impressive, this outtakes disc is a welcome addition and helps listeners better understand the nature and dynamics of this incredible joint effort between producer and artist.

Rounding out the set is a DVD of "Building The Wrecking Ball," a documentary about the album's creation which was directed by sound engineer, producer and musician Bob Lanois, who also happens to be Daniel's brother. The nearly 50-minute documentary effectively splices together studio footage, performance clips and interviews to offer an insider's view on this memorable collaboration and the key players who contributed to the creation of this modern-day classic.