Picks and Pans Review: Cowgirl's Prayer

updated 10/04/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/04/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Emmylou Harris

After two decades and 22 albums, Emmylou Harris is not expected to surprise but to deliver high-level neotraditionalist country music and, here and there, a song capable of becoming a lifelong friend: definitive versions of Townes van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefly," for example, or Jesse Winchester's "Songbird" or Carlene Carter and Susanna Clark's "Easy from Now On."

Harris takes more detours on Cowgirl's Prayer than she took on last year's more tradition-steeped release, At the Ryman. There's a sampling of glossy acoustic pop ("A Ways to Go"), semiraunchy rock ("High-Powered Love"), early-Joni Mitchell folk ("Prayer in Open D"), gospelly R&B ("Thanks to You") and straight-ahead, Cajun-flavored country ("Crescent City"). The stylistic hopscotch makes Cowgirl less satisfying than Harris's late-'70s and early-'80s records, most of which hewed to a single country-rock sound. Still (it almost needn't be said), Harris's voice—windblown and careworn, unresonant yet sexy—and her first-rate taste in material put Cowgirl's Prayer in the 95th percentile of new country albums. Three of the strongest songs—"Jerusalem Tomorrow," "Thanks to You," "I Hear a Call"—are frankly religious, and "The Light" is ambiguously so, as if Harris, ruefully skeptical in midlife of the power of romance, is beginning to seek consolation of another sort. (Elektra/Asylum)

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