<!– Link: Emmylou Harris
Just how does a musician follow-up an award-winning, career-defining album?
After recording the lush and genre-defying Wrecking Ball album with star producer Daniel Lanois, Emmylou Harris decided her next project should come directly from her.
So in between recording albums with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt and organizing a tribute album for her late mentor Gram Parsons, Harris set pen to paper — or perhaps words to guitar chords — and created Red Dirt Girl, only the second album she self-wrote.
Rather than reuse the atmospherics of Wrecking Ball, Harris enlisted producer Malcolm Burn — who worked with Lanois on Wrecking Ball — to create a sound approximating the feel of the album’s title.
What results is a ruddy, dreamy backdrop over which Harris deploys her rich poetic imagery. It’s a sharp contrast to the studio gloss of both Trio II and Western Wall albums from last year.
(The most convenient comparrison is Midnight Oil’s 1996 album Breathe, which Burn produced and on which Harris sang background vocals.)
Harris recognizes her strengths as an aritst and does everything to enhance them. Hence, she stuck mainly to interpreting other people’s work, fearing that she would write a bad song.
So does Emmylou Harris the interpreter compare with Emmylou Harris the songwriter?
Yes and no.
From track to track, the material on Red Dirt Girl stands firmly next to some of the songs by Harris’ peers. But as an album, Red Dirt Girl often seems to bathe in its low-key dreaminess a bit too much.
There doesn’t seem to be the same kind of emotional arc as her interpretive work, and after a while, one track tends to blend into the next.
Ah, but not every album needs to be driven by a theme, and if it’s moments of quiet, dark beauty you seek, Red Dirt Girl offers a good hour’s worth of satisfaction.