Emmylou Harris: Wrecking Ball
Time’s arrow must be on fast-forward – almost 20 years have passed since Emmylou Harris released Wrecking Ball. And yet there is something truly timeless about the remarkable performances and haunted music on her landmark 1995 album. This elaborate reissue involves a remastered version of the original, a second CD of outtakes and alternate versions, and a DVD of a home movie of the recording.
The DVD opens up the world of Wrecking Ball: it was shot in producer Daniel Lanois’s vintage New Orleans house, where the album was recorded. The images convey a sense of the energy and warmth between the major players. If there were disagreements, the camera doesn’t track them. Instead, this is presented as a meeting of great minds and even greater voices, as Harris and Lanois welcome luminaries to play on the recording of their songs. So Neil Young turns up for the title track, Kate and Anna McGarrigle wander in to support Emmylou’s moving version of Going Back to Harlan , and Larry Mullen Jnr waves to the camera as he adds percussion.
At the centre of it all are Harris, composed and elegant, with her majestic voice, swooping and soaring, thrilling and fading; and the softly insistent Lanois surrounded by a multitude of instruments. At the time the producer was hot, his status elevated by his work with U2. Harris was 48, a veteran whose best work in the country sphere seemed behind her. The connection was interesting but not obvious.
Wrecking Ball’s electric Americana would reignite Harris’s career, though at the time some thought Lanois’s influence too strong. Today that argument is redundant. The producer’s complex, layered sound is one of the album’s greatest strengths. But it also serves to underline the music’s dark themes – the shadow of death in its many guises, time passing, the afterlife.
Big ideas, yes, but they never overburden the songs or the performances. There’s an unmistakable sense of something special happening in Lanois’s home. He and Harris trusted their instincts and trusted each other. They were proved right.