Emmylou Harris 

Wrecking Ball (Elektra)

It’s a close call between Tom Petty’s Wildflowers and Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball, but I’d probably give Emmylou the title. I know this record so intimately — every note, lyric, gesture. Hearing the first few seconds of the first track completely freezes me — like it hits some nerve in my body, my vision goes gauzy, my breath slows down. My mom had this CD when I was growing up, and while I don’t remember loving it as much as I loved Bonnie Raitt and Jewel back then, sometime in my early 20s I started listening to it again, and it just slowly became part of my soundtrack.

This record came out in 1995; it was produced by Daniel Lanois (U2) and was such a stark departure from anything Emmylou had done in the past. The production is bizarre, but so brilliant. Emmylou’s voice is EQ’ed in such a specific way — some songs it seems that her voice has no lower or higher end frequencies, it’s all this very specific mid-treble-zone, so that her chest voice is super pronounced, but her falsetto almost disappears. I would freak out if someone did that to my voice, but it works so well, and makes for such an ephemeral sounding record. I often wonder if I’d ever be able to make an album like it — with songs I didn’t write, and with the engineering & production functioning as a primary element of the album’s identity. I love recording cover songs, but Emmylou’s performances of the songs on Wrecking Ball are so eerily perfect and wise, like they may not have been written by her, but her voice owns them.

Anna Ash plays with Mara Connor at 8 p.m. on Monday, January 20 at Gold Diggers.


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