Return to “Wrecking Ball”
Revisiting Emmylou Harris’ seminal 1995 album
Some albums have the power of transportation. Every time Emmylou Harris’ “Wrecking Ball” starts to play and “Where Will I Be?” casts out its spooky spell, I’m in a car driving down quiet country roads in the vivid colour of a New England autumn. That CD played again and again on a trip around Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut and it just sends me back to those days.
I’d played the album on many occasions before – and since – but it’s wrapped up in the details and unfoldings of that particular trip for some reason. You’ve probably got albums like that too, the ones which send you on a trip. They’re what makes albums more than pieces of vinyl or plastic or invisible bytes ebbing and flowing in the ether.
Even without that particular trick of the synapses, it’s still a powerful, evocative, emotional listen. Harris has never sounded as better or as vulnerable, a crack coming into her voice on occasions as she mines those sweeps of loneliness, sadness, loss and darkness. Every song, every line, every note simply tingles. That voice and that sad-eyed pacing. The beautiful manner in which producer Daniel Lanois coats and treats the atmospherics. The gentle, sympathetic playing of the band behind the voice. It just takes your breath away.
A few years ago, I interviewed Lanois when he was in town working with U2 and plugging his “Here Is What Is” film (below). He’s a producer with great charm, empathy and tales and an hour in his company makes you realise what he brings to a recording studio. He talked about many things that morning over a couple of double-espressos and toast in the Shelbourne Hotel (and I’m fairly sure I walked out without paying for them) and one of those things was meeting Harris and working on “Wrecking Ball”
“I went to Nashville to meet Emmylou and we went to her house. I got this real sense inside the house. It’s hard to explain. I operate by feelings and instinct and you got this feeling of old school dignity, this respect for American music, inside her house. I knew there were hidden secrets there that I was not hip to and I knew I’d come out of doing that record with something that I could learn from. That was the driving force for me.
“She played me a lot of songs that she had in demo form. The best ones were the ones where she was sitting there on her own with an acoustic guitar. She was embarrased to play those ones, but I knew when I heard them that this was the album. I’d put a mic in front of her as she sat in a chair and bring in other people around her in a horseshoe shape. That was all it took.”
That album is about to get the deluxe reissue remastering treatment and, best of all, they’re set to tour it. I really hope some Irish promoter is working on bringing Harris, Lanois and co to town because that would be a show to highlight in your diary. Bits and pieces from the archives below