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Emmylou Harris
Red Dirt Girl
Nonesuch Records


I cannot stress enough how much Emmylou Harris has come to mean to me over the last decade. Growing up in the country, I got to hear plenty of her music, but then it was absent from my life for almost a decade and a half. In about 1995 I got my first taste of the new Emmylou, with her epic release Wrecking Ball. It turned me around and made me pay attention to a true innovator in country and pop music. Bucking all of the current trends in country music, Ms. Harris continues to create music that is dark and introspective and yet full of her distinctive spirit and beauty. She has given us an album that is deeply personal and resplendent with lyrical intensity and musical genius. The music drifts along sparsely dense, a more than fitting backdrop to the themes of the songs given here.

Red Dirt Girl begins with the pulsing rhythms and floating guitars of "The Pearl." Steeped in a dirge-like atmosphere, this song sets the tone of the album. "If there’s no Heaven, what is this hunger for?" "Michelangelo" explores the depths of mystery found in the souls of those people we have come to know and care for in our travels through life. The song floats along brilliant trails of reverb and acoustic guitars, creating an almost mythic ambience. "I Don’t Wanna Talk About It" is filled with multiple layers of sound and interesting musical essences. The music is just as spellbinding as the voice that carries it, and the lyrics address the most common of human problems. Loss. That theme is continued in "Tragedy." What do we gain, only to lose it again… and do we learn? The trashy lo-fi drums offset the simple beauty of this song. "Red Dirt Girl" is full of brilliant imagery and the poetry of recurring themes. The music is haunting and dense and filled with the depth that the lyrics express. "My Baby Needs a Shepherd" is a tragic look at the struggle to find the strength to live this life. It is a heavy song, with soaring backwards guitars and pounding kettledrums. "I pray she rides a dolphin, but she’s swimming with the shark, Out where none can save her, Not even Noah and his ark." The loss at death is the subject of "Bang The Drum Slowly." The lyrics are simple, telling the departed hero of all the things that went unlearned and unasked. The music is minimalist, relying on the vocals to truly carry the song.

"J’ai Fait Tout" is the little French addition to this record, a theme that Emmylou seems to be enjoying in recent years. The music blends traditional instruments with a more modern rhythm, making a nice synthesis of sounds. The only cover on this record, "One Big Love," is a nicely darkened version of the wonderful Patti Griffin song. Emmylou’s voice is heavenly, recreating the sinuous melodies of the song, with a new depth and emotion. "Hour of Gold" is a deeply tragic and ghostly song… unexplainable, really. It is a song that needs to be experienced, not explained. "My Antonia" is an amazing track, featuring Dave Matthews on guest vocals. The two voices twine nicely on a song that is full of beauty and some unearthly hope. "I curse the ambition that took me far from her, for a treasure not ever so fine or so fair, as the flash of her smile or the touch of her fingers, the fire in her heart and the smell of her hair." Wrapping up the album is "Boy From Tupelo," a gritty final chapter to one of the greatest musical stories written in recent years. Love and lack endure. Perhaps that is our greatest lesson to learn in this life, and Emmylou Harris is there to help us understand and cope.

I cannot do justice to this record in the short space I am given to review it. This record is the soul of what all music should be--honest and pure. There is not one song here that hasn’t brought a tear to my eye on one listen or another. The depth of the emotions and intricacies of the songs are extraordinary. Some would say that Emmylou has forsaken her country roots. I would argue that she has not only gone back to the roots of country, but she has taken an American folk music to new heights. Her voice has always been distinctive, and she has married it to a music that is just as singular, and accentuates her voice’s beauty and the meaning of her words. She has found new fans and friends in the younger music community, evidenced here by her work with Dave Matthews and Jill Cunniff, as well as maintaining old ties with her friends, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa. It is safest to say that Emmylou has not recorded an album, so much as she has given each of us a gift to hold close to our hearts andcherish.

-David DeVoe

Track Listing:

    1. The Pearl
    2. Michelangelo
    3. I Don’t Wanna Talk About It Now
    4. Tragedy
    5. Red Dirt Girl
    6. My Baby Needs A Shepherd
    7. Bang The Drum Slowly
    8. J’ai Fait Tout
    9. One Big Love
    10. Hour Of Gold
    11. My Antonia
    12. Boy From Tupelo


Mike Doughty



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