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Emmylou Harris: Red Dirt Girl


Emmylou Harris

Album: Red Dirt Girl
Label: Nonesuch

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Emmylou Harris' early-'70s work with Gram Parsons instantly afforded her an impressive legacy by association. But, to her credit, Harris' subsequent three-decade solo career has more than fulfilled the promise of her initial country-rock splash. In a genre that tends to place as much emphasis on voices as songs, Harris' distinctive singing continues to evolve, sounding sadder and more nakedly emotive than ever. Her Daniel Lanois-produced 1995 album Wrecking Ball found her gift for interpretation intact, and the haunting disc—simultaneously timeless and distinctly modern—added another facet of musical intrigue to a performer still difficult to pin down. Red Dirt Girl is that album's belated sequel, even going so far as to enlist several of Lanois' friends (particularly producer Malcolm Burn) for that trademark otherworldly atmosphere. The disc differs, however, in its song selection: Wrecking Ball was composed almost entirely of covers, while Red Dirt Girl features mostly Harris originals. The results are decidedly personal, so much so that when Bruce Springsteen drops in for "Tragedy," Harris clearly dominates. "The Pearl," "Michelangelo," and "Bang The Drum Slowly" concern themselves with death, regret, and sorrow, topics familiar to much of country music but rarely granted such sympathetic readings. Harris is an institution, but what makes her special is her ability to shape traditions to own vision. Red Dirt Girl may not pack quite the conceptual wallop of its predecessor, but it's so good to hear that voice again—since her time with Parsons, it's too often been relegated to a supporting role—that it's pointless to quibble about degrees of quality. More than most artists, Harris can consistently be judged in degrees of brilliance, and Red Dirt Girl is yet another darkly gleaming gem.