"It's unfortunate that this is going to get stuck in the country section of the music store, because like it's predecesor "Wrecking Ball" (one of the few undisputed GREAT albums of the 90s), Emmy's new music is beyond any classifications. Is it rock? Is it folk? Is it tribal? Is it country? None of the above, but all at once, really.After flexing her songwriting muscles again with "The Western Wall" album with Linda Ronstadt (a skill which had more or less remained dormant for over a decade), Emmylou manages to come up with 11 new songs of her own for this release, and they don't pale beside the great tunes she recorded on "Wrecking Ball." In fact, it makes it even more poignant that these words are coming FROM her rather than just THROUGH her like last time around, and on previous 90s outings.While Daniel Lanois provided a rejuvination in Emmylou's creativity, he's absent her -- stuck somewhere in the studio with U2 far far away, a band that takes a notoriously long time to finish an album. His "Wrecking Ball" partner in crime, Malcolm Burn, takes over instead -- and pushes the sound they were going for last time even further. And while some complain that the Lanois sound is muddy or difficult to wade through, I say "Too bad for you!" Lanois has coaxed some of the best work out of artists as wide ranging as Peter Gabriel, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, U2, the Neville Brothers, Robbie Robertson and many others. Burn, who participated on many of those artists albums, had a few of his own tricks as well. He seems to have learned quite a few things from Lanois and the latter's sometimes-partner Brian Eno. "Bang the Drum Slowly" features a beautiful Eno-esque soundscape. "I Don't Want to Talk About it Now" is a mean wall-of-sound groove featuring looping polyrythms and telephone answering machines. Background vocals from Kate McGarrigle, Julie Miller, Bruce Springsteen and others are layered into the mix to make everything blend together into a harmonious blend rather than isolated parts. The results are magnificent.The playing of Daryl Johnson, Ethan Johns and Burns is magificent, and accents from Buddy Miller and others only add to a rich mix.While she might not be selling millions of records any more, I'm glad Emmylou Harris is being brave enough to make the music she wants to make, regardless of commercial appeal.The only song on this album which could remotely work on radio is the closer "Boy from Tupelo," but even that one presents an audio challenge as the mix isn't quite a straightforward as conventional radio would like. "Your last chance Texaco, your sweetheart of the rodeo, a Juliet to your Romeo, the border your cross into Mexico . . ." Emmy, you can be all those things to me."
Poignant journey of the soul
Maudeen Wachsmith | Port Townsend, WA | 09/19/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Emmylou Harris's first solo CD in five years is a beautiful, thought-provoking and emotional CD. That said, it is certainly does her and her fans a disservice to call it "country." This CD while appealing to fans of "alternative country" might be better labeled, if you want to put a label on it at all, as "folk rock" appealing to those who like Sarah MacLachlan rather than those who like Faith Hill. Emmylou wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 12 cuts on this CD and one can't help but think they are at least partially autobiographical. Particularly poignant is "Bang the Drum Slowly" which is about her father and includes the line, "were you deceived by the likes of me" suggesting perhaps that her father didn't exactly support her choice of careers or perhaps to her political views. With "My Baby Needs a Shepherd" she continues on her poignant journey of the soul. The arrangement of the duet with Dave Matthews, "My Antonia" is as good as any she's ever done. The background vocals of "The Boss" (Bruce Springsteen) on "Tragedy" add to its emotional message. Also enjoyable are the background vocals of the understated but oh so beautiful voice of Julie Miller on several of the cuts.I love this CD and can't stop listening to it nearly a week after its release. In fact, I like it more and more with each listen. It's highly recommended by this long time (25+ years) Emmylou fan."
Emmylou does it again...
E. M. Carey | New York, NY USA | 10/06/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I didn't think Emmylou could come up with another album as haunting and captivating as "Wrecking Ball." Of course, I was wrong. "Red Dirt Girl" shows Emmylou again at her best, with wonderful songs, melodies and lyrics that highlight her other-worldy voice. From the opening beats of 'The Pearl,' I was totally hooked. So much of the music is totally hers, very distinctly Emmylou. She does an intriguing cover of Patty Griffin's 'One Big Love' and makes it her own. There's also a terrific duet with Dave Matthews as well that is, as is so much of her music, hauntingly beautiful.I used to say that I hated country music. Well, Emmylou was one of the first to reveal to me the depth and breadth of 'country' and she is now among my all-time favorites. And this is a remarkable album from a great artist, one that will appeal to anyone who simply likes good music. I highly recommend it to everyone, even those who think they don't like country - Emmylou's music defies all characterization except that it's wonderfully unique."
An absolutely stunning effort....
paul g | Auckland, New Zealand | 12/11/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I write this review from the perspective of being a long term Emmylou fan, having bought much of her material on vinyl in the '70s (Elite Hotel, Blue Kentucky Girl, Last Date etc), and latterly having bought Wrecking Ball and the wonderful Spy Boy on CD. I also had the pleasure of seeing Emmylou in concert with the Hot Band in Auckland in the early '80s. Which brings me to "Red Dirt Girl". In a word - stunning. Has her voice ever sounded more pure and angelic than on Michelangelo? Have more poignant songs than the title track and Bang The Drum Slowly been written in recent times? This CD has many highlights, including the lovely New Orleans feel of J'ai Fait Tout, a real departure of style for her. Unlike some writers, I enjoy the production on this CD, which is, if anything, sparer than it was on Wrecking Ball. On my system, at least, the vocal sound is well separated and sitting over the top of most of the arrangements. I don't even mind the drumloops! A "must buy" for any fan of Emmylou and I only hope she tours again down this part of the world so I can enjoy her, Buddy Miller and the superb rhythm section in a live environment."
The blue kentucky girl picks up her pen
Michael Oates Palmer | Los Angeles, CA USA | 09/13/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Emmylou Harris' record Wrecking Ball of 1995 was treated as a sort of watershed moment. Guided by Daniel Lanois into creating an atmospheric, ethereal sound -- much like those he brought to Neville Brothers' Yellow Moon and the two records he produced for Bob Dylan -- Emmylou brought her stellar angelic voice to great songs by Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, and a host of other major figures in the alt-country/folk music. But if the album had a flaw, it's that sometimes Emmylou felt too much like an instrument -- a majestic instrument, yes -- for Lanois' sonic collages. Her albums generally have been her interpretations of other's materials, but still, her own personality generally shone through in her choice of covers, and her re-arrangement of songs, especially on the stellar, indispensible Live at the Ryman collection. If Wrecking Ball was missing something, it was Emmylou's voice to go along with that Voice -- she seemed distant from the heart of the matter.After assembling a terrific Gram Parsons tribute record, a fine live record with her touring band Spyboy, a second Trio collection with Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton, and an underrated record with Rondstadt (Western Wall) that featured one of Emmylou's own best compositions, "Raise the Dead," she's returned not just with her first solo studio album in five years, but one of her first records to feature mostly her own material (there's one Patty Griffin cover) since The Ballad of Sally Rose.At first listen, it may sound like Wrecking Ball II: the low groove, the tight percussion, the echo effects on some of Emmylou's voicework. But then you listen to the lyrics. From "Bang the Drum Slowly," an elegy for her father co-written with the great Guy Clark, to the duet with Dave Matthews, "My Antonia," to a superb meditation on life, love, liberty, and Elvis, "Boy from Tupelo" -- where she even winks a little to a mentor from her past by referring to a sweetheart of your rodeo -- this is an album of personal introspection from an artist not quite yet ready to be bronzed as a national treasure, however fitting the accolade might be.She's nobody's puppet, and she's a fine, fine songwriter in her own right. And in the end, you come down to her voice: sometimes a raspy whisper, sometimes a clarion call. The singer who has been the interpreter of so many others' songs here interprets the sounds and tics of her own heart, and articulates them in a way seldom heard on other's recordings. In the end, Red Dirt Girl is a record about embracing the wisdom of growing older without turning one's back on the feelings of youth, the charms of femininity, the mystery of love, and the sense of wonder about the world. It's a record that probably even eclipse's Steve Earle's Transcendental Blues as the strongest I've heard this year, and if there's a flaw to it, it's that sometimes the Lanois-like atmosphere doesn't let her lyrics breathe a little bit more -- Emmylou is capable of rocking her heart out (as Live at the Ryman's version of Earle's "Guitar Town" displays), and it's a shame that there aren't a few more chances for her to break loose in this setting. (Though in her cover of Griffin's One Big Love, she does get playful, singing, "Just go on and kiss him if you wanna...") Sometimes the atmosphere and production is a little too manicured, a little too maintained. But that's a small quibble when you're listening to a record like this, a rarity and, more, a joy.[Oh, and on a more pedestrian, admittedly locker room note -- in a world where a 70something like Sean Connery can be embraced as a sex symbol, why can't we give a 53 year old beauty like Emmylou her due? She only seems to get better with age. I'm 26 years old, and I think she's prettier than 99% of the women on the screen today. So screw the ageist double standards. And buy this record.]"