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Emmylou Harris

Wrecking Ball – 1995 (Asylum)

Reviewed by Roy Kasten

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CDs by Emmylou Harris

A careful listening to Wrecking Ball places it in the continuum of Emmylou Harris' career -long experimentation with country. Producer Daniel Lanois creates cinematic waves of moody synthesizers and echoed guitars, yet every song has a core of musicianship, of a country snare and six string - and Harris' voice. Harris has always challenged the country ideal of sweet, perfectly pitched female vocals; here her voice is a smashed mirror, artfully pieced together again, refracting and reflecting in new, shimmering ways. The out-of-breath, parched take on "Every Grain Sand," for instance, is disturbing, but perfectly appropriate. The lyrics throughout are startling and strange. "Irock with the cradle and I roll with the rage. I shook those walls and I rattled that cage. I took my troubles down a dead end trail, reachin' out a hand for a holier grail," she sings in "Deeper Well." The themes are dark: death, suicide, goodbyes, fate, and judgment. Lanois achieves an ineffable spirituality, at times taking traditional gospel motifs (organs and choral backings) as a springboard to mysticism. Though not for country purists, "Wrecking Ball" is enthralling.