Emmylou Harris seems to have finally found her freedom. It’s rare to follow an artist who, after almost three decades of recording, still has something new and fresh to say – and who continues to develop their sound. This new album may be Harris’ masterpiece.
Long the godmother of country music’s traditionalists, Harris has moved far from her roots. Her 1995, Wrecking Ball, signalled a change was at hand; its adventurous sound that put off some old fans and won her many new ones. Red Dirt Girl is more of a good thing – but even better.
Two things stand out on this new CD: the production and Harris’ mesmerizing voice. Produced by Malcolm Burn, the album is a sonic journey far removed from Harris’ classic Elite Hotel. Shimmering guitars are layered over echoing vocals, creating a dreamy tone that serves to emphasize the personal journey at the heart of these Harris compositions.
And then there’s Harris’ famous voice, which has gotten even better with age. On the title track, she sounds like her old country self from the early days; rough and twangy, as befitting the song. On other tunes, like “The Pearl” and “Tragedy,” her voice is indescribably warm, rich, and poetic.
Red Dirt Girl includes a duet with Dave Matthews on “My Antonia,” a song co-written with Luscious Jackson’s Jill Cunniff, and Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa providing harmonies on “Tragedy.” This is a stunning album.
This review originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’01 issue.