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19 years later, Harris returns with "Wrecking Ball"

House of Blues, Boston, April 13, 2014

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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At one point, Emmylou Harris told the crowd that she could not believe it had been 19 years since she released "Wrecking Ball." That was most understandable because based on this concert tour devoted towards playing the left of center atmospheric disc, the song bird has hardly missed a beat.

Harris' label, Nonesuch, just released a deluxe edition of "Wrecking Ball" which includes the original disc, outtakes on a separate second disc and a DVD documentary about the making of the disc by producer Daniel Lanois' brother, Bob.

At 67, Harris sounds about as good as ever once she got past the first few songs ("Where Will I Be" and Steve Earle's "Goodbye") where she sounded a tad hoarse and not as angelic as we have long been used to.

But Harris came on strongly for the remainder of the 18-song, 88-minute show. She played "Wrecking Ball" from start to finish. That included such strong readings of Kate and Anna McGarrigle's "Goin' Back to Harlan," "Deeper Well," Dylan's "Every Grain of Sand" and Lucinda Williams' "Sweet Old World."

Harris' voice, of course, always has been her calling card, sounding ethereal, angelic. She was in good form on this night as well. It also helped that she had a strong three-piece backing band including Lanois, Steven Nistor on drums and Jim Wilson on bass.

And she also was in a chipper mood, often introducing the songs and clearly enjoying a second go round with the material.

Harris eventually strayed from "Wrecking Ball" with an excellent take on Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty," as part of the two-song first encore.

Harris returned for a second encore of the late Jesse Winchester's "My Songbird," backed only by Lanois on guitar. Winchester deserved the tribute, but the song didn't quite fit with the rest of the show.

Fortunately, there was tremendous amount to enjoy on this evening, even 19 years later.

Lanois preceded Harris with a set that started off a bit oddly with him soloing on pedal steel with a bunch of atmospherics going on and the crowd not particularly engaged.

The Canadian, best known for producing U2 and Bob Dylan, picked up the pace thanks to adding Nistor and Williams as his backing band and his vocals. The set grew stronger and stronger as it went along.