Black Music Matters Festival

Emmylou Harris

Stumble Into Grace – 2003 (Nonesuch)

Reviewed by Rick Teverbaugh

It's hard to imagine Emmylou Harris stumbling into anything. As Harris completes 30 years of recorded material, she seems more determined than ever to cut across cultural barriers as well as those walls radio stations use to divide musical genres.

Harris first began to mine that vein with "Wrecking Ball" in 1995 and again five years later with "Red Dirt Girl." Now "Stumble Into Grace" again manages to break new ground without ever belonging to anyone except Harris. She wrote or co-wrote all but 1 of the 11 tracks. She also gets great help from friends like Linda Ronstadt, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Jane Siberry and Julie Miller. There are tracks that sound almost like they were recorded in the same sessions as her contribution to "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" like "Little Bird." Others, like "Can You Hear me Now," seem to have no connection at all with anything in her recorded past. "Strong Hand" was written for the late June Carter Cash, while "Time In Babylon" might be as strong a political statement as she's made in an original song.

Harris shows no signs of slowing down or of wanting to bask in the critical acclaim and commercial success of her past two albums. That unwillingness to coast is only one of the things that makes this such a solid and challenging release.