Picks and Pans Review: Wrecking Ball
This year has brought a novel breed of country album, one fashioned not by maverick new artists but by traditional singers collaborating with rock producers who bring fresh ears and ideas to the country format. Robert John "Mutt" Lange, for example, who built his reputation with the Cars, Def Leppard and other noise-makers, propelled the elegant Canadian Shania Twain to the top of the country charts (and to the altar—Lange and Twain wed in 1993).
On this daring departure for Harris, she works with progressive rock producer Daniel Lanois, who lends her voice the shimmering mysticism he brought to U2. Lanois creates evocative arrangements in which layers of sound rise like sheets of heat off a Louisiana blacktop. With Harris he has forged such haunting and inventive tracks as Julie Miller's woe-is-me ballad "All My Tears" and Anna McGarrigle's defeated Appalachian hymn "Goin' Back to Harlan."
But the experiment is not an unqualified success. Harris is pushed into songs on which she is uncomfortable with the phrasing ("Where Will I Be") or the pitch ("Deeper Well"). She is still at her best on the simplest, most straightforward melodies—such as Lucinda Williams's "Sweet Old World," on which Harris's pellucid voice soars with thrilling abandon.
Emmylou ends up standing tall on the ambitious Wrecking Ball, even when she's a trifle out of her depth. (Elektra/Asylum)