Today’s desert island disc: Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball

Emmyloud Harris Wrecking Ball

A towering achievement and also an immensely likeable record. Emmylou Harris, after spending the first half of the 90s playing and recording solid if traditionally-oriented country albums, in 1995 teams up with Daniel Lanois and engineer Malcolm Burn to make a surprisingly experimental, electronica-influenced, slow-burning gem of a modern country record that sounds nothing – absolutely nothing – like country music sounds in 1995 (or since, for that matter).

She forges a completely unique path here, presenting material in a way that boldly proposes an alternate universe: one where country music does not sound like 80s mainstream rock (or bluegrass nostalgia). Instead of commercial sheen, the music here has grit, tape hiss, low and odd keyboard pads, loops and samples… and yet, there’s Emmylou Harris’ voice, invoking a true country idiom with every line she sings. There’s much pain and sadness on this record, all of it worth hearing any number of times. A true artist statement, even though she only co-wrote one of the songs (“Waltz Across Texas Tonight,” with Rodney Crowell), Wrecking Ball is a must-have, even if you don’t like country as a rule. (As someone who was always a performer and never a writer, this album also marks the beginning of Emmylou Harris’ journey into songwriting, culminating in later records that have a similar sound but songs mostly penned by her, which are also worth listening to.)

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