In the last few weeks, many have focused on Bruce Springsteen’s new album, Wrecking Ball. All of the news reminds me that there was already a great album with same name from when Emmylou Harris released her Wrecking Ball in 1995. The Daniel Lanois production and the atmospheric sound of the album created a career-changing sound for Harris. Allmusic argued that the album might have been the culmination of all of Harris’s work up until then, calling it “a leftfield masterpiece, the most wide-ranging, innovative, and daring record in a career built on such notions.” I fell in love with the album immediately, and seeing Harris perform the songs in New Orleans sealed it for me. Just consider three great songs from that CD.
First, the opening song on the album sets the stage for the Lanois production touch with one of his songs, “Where Will I Be.” The question asked in the song — “Oh where oh where will I be. . . when that trumpets sounds” — reflects a theme running through many songs on the album of trying to find one’s place in the world and the universe, whether it be with love, family, or something spiritual.
Later on the album, Harris showed her great taste in music by covering one of Steve Earle’s most heartbreaking songs, “Goodbye” from his Train A Comin’ (1995) album. I love Earle’s version but Harris is the only cover I have heard that captures the aching in the song. On the album, Earle loaned his guitar playing to aid Harris’s voice in creating a great version of the song with one of the greatest lines of all time about a past love, “I can’t remember if we said goodbye.”
Finally, the album also features her cover of Bob Dylan’s religious masterpiece, “Every Grain of Sand” from his Shot of Love (1981) album. In 2003, Harris performed the song at Johnny Cash’s funeral with Sheryl Crow. This video is from San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in 2010. Even though the camera is a little shaky, it captures Harris in fine form with Buddy Miller helping out on guitar (on the CD, Steve Earle played guitar on this song too).
And those are only three songs on Wrecking Ball, which in addition to Steve Earle, included guest appearances by Lucinda Williams and Neil Young with songs by those two artists as well as a beautiful cover of Gillian Welch’s “Orphan Girl.” I will not dare to say which Wrecking Ball album is the best, but there is certainly room on you iPod for both of these Wrecking Balls.
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