Her Nonesuch debut is her first album of new material since the 300,000-selling, Grammy-winning "Wrecking Ball" of 1995 - and is an almost fully self-penneed effort. Produced by Malcolm Burn who engineered for Daniel Lanois on the last album, RED DIRT GIRL features Buddy Miller (guitar), Ethan Johns (guitar), Daryl Johnson (bass), Carlo Nuccio (drums). Recorded in New Orleans, the album includes a guest appearance by Dave Matthews (who duets oh "My Antonia"), plus vocal backup from Bruce Springsteen and Patty Scialfa ("Tragedy"), Kate McGarrigle, Jill Cuniff, and Patty Griffin.
Consider this Emmylou Harris's emancipation proclamation--an album that confirms that 1995's adventurously atmospheric Wrecking Ball
wasn't an aberration, but a preview of more radical changes to come. Long the godmother of alternative-country's traditionalist wing, Harris here writes songs with Luscious Jackson
's Jill Cunniff, sings a duet with Dave Matthews
("My Antonia"), and recruits Bruce Springsteen
and Patti Scialfa
to provide harmonies on the album's most compelling ballad ("Tragedy"). The production by Malcolm Burn applies sonic treatments of drum machines, shimmering guitars, and echoed vocals to a song cycle by Harris that is largely original and deeply personal, filled with dream imagery and evocations of a spiritual quest. While material such as "Michaelangelo" and "Bang the Drum Slowly" suffers from an arty ponderousness, it's doubtful that Harris has ever recorded an album that means more to her than this one. --Don McLeese