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Emmylou Harris

Red Dirt Girl – 2000 (Nonesuch)

Reviewed by Brian Steinberg

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CDs by Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris continues to break with tradition with her latest. "Red Dirt Girl's" predecessor, 1995's "Wrecking Ball," traded in Harris' rootsy taste and trademark twang for technology. Daniel Lanois, the producer who has revived, among others, U2, the Neville Brothers and Bob Dylan, set Harris' soaring voice against a variety of soundscapes in order to evoke atmospheres very unfamiliar to the majority of her fan base. It worked.

This takes things a step further. Revered for her taste in other writers' songs, Harris spent the last few years writing her own lyrics. And with Lanois protegee Malcom Burn on board behind the knobs, she has another career-altering piece on her hands.

The title track weds a homespun tale of a rural girl's coming of age with acoustic strumming and otherworldly guitar. "The Pearl" talks of the tempering process that comes with age, and Emmylou's voice seems to come from the heavens themselves when she cries out "Allelujah." Spyboy members Buddy Miller and Darryl Johnson are on hand along with ex-Lucious Jackson bass player Jill Cuniff, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa and Dave Matthews. All this and one song from an outside writer, a lively version of "One Big Love" from Patty Griffin. Longtime Emmylou fans may find the artist's recent growth spurt somewhat strange. And while the tunes here won't set the feet a-tapping instantly, this shows a wiser Emmylou Harris wringing the most from her voice and her craft and delivering some absolutely transcendental moments in the process.