Wrecking Ball (Asylum ‘95) Rating: A
As much the product of Daniel Lanois’ atmospheric production as Harris’ ethereal ache of a voice, Wrecking Ball could hardly be called a country album, the genre with which Harris is generally associated with. This is because Lanois’ distinct touch is everywhere. Still, though the gentle swathes of chiming guitars and brushed drums (both Lanois trademarks) gives these songs a graceful ambience, it is Harris’ unforgettable voice that is the album's true star. A gorgeous instrument that perfectly conveys sorrowful emotions, Harris’ singing unifies this album and gives it a luscious (if one-dimensional) overall mood, as the mysterious “Deeper Well” and an impressive makeover of Jimi Hendrix's “May This Be Love” are the only major departures among similarly evocative songs. Harris smartly plumbs nuggets from highly regarded but not quite mainstream songwriters such as Steve Earle (“Goodbye”), Anna McGarrigle (“Goin’ Back To Harlan”), Lucinda Williams (“Sweet Old World”), and Gillian Welch (“Orphan Girl”). She also tackles neglected gems from a couple of legends (Neil Young’s title track and Bob Dylan’s “Every Grain Of Sand”), while Lanois’ own songwriting sparkles on the shimmering “Where Will I Be.” These versions will assuredly move even those listeners who are intimately acquainted with the originals, as Harris’ vocal skills shed new light on each of these songs. Meanwhile, her own (with Rodney Crowell) “Waltz Across Texas Tonight” is the twangiest thing here, reminding us where Harris came from. But actually I’m more interested in where she’s going, though my guess is that the combination of her angelic voice and a symbiotic musical partnership with Lanois has resulted in this gorgeous album being a once in a lifetime kind of achievement. I personally consider it a classic and her career high point.