When Emmylou Harris released Wrecking Ball (Elektra) last year quite a few old fans and country purists balked at the notion of a record produced by Daniel Lanois (U2, Neville Brothers) that featured songs written by Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young. It's easy to forget, however, that prior to the crucial role Harris played in the New Traditionalist movement in the early 80s, she was a protege of country-rock icon Gram Parsons. While not quite a full-circle journey, her latest effort does find Harris reinvestigating rock through experienced eyes. Lanois' trademark gauzy, atmosphere-heavy production--which tends to blur almost every edge into indecipherable mush like the grainy photos in the CD booklet--coupled with Harris's angelic voice steers Wrecking Ball dangerously close to meaningless sonic fluff now and then. But despite the innate sweetness of her singing, Harris understands subtlety. Within the wide-open spaces of the production she bears down hard on the lyrics, delivering an intensity that stands in stark relief to the airy textures. With guitar and keyboard passages that float across the songs, and percussion that resides between distended second-line and quasi-tribal rhythms, there's not much in the way of country flavor here, even though some of the tunes were penned by Nashville types like Julie Miller, Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, and Lucinda Williams. In her gentle interpretations Harris focuses on the song itself, ignoring irrelevant genre qualifications. Tuesday, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 929-5959 or 559-1212. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Caroline Greyshock.