...An album which sees Harris continuing to push the boundaries of American music...
Sue Keogh 2003-09-10
One of the finest interpreters of songs that America has produced in the 20th century, with the exception of her heartbreaking tribute to mentor Gram Parsons, ''Boulder To Birmingham'' and 1985s ''Ballad Of Sally Rose'', Emmylou Harris didn't really start writing her own material until she hit her fifties. The Grammy Award-winning Red Dirt Girl (2000) revealed such a depth of songwriting talent that one felt a little cross with her for not putting her mind to it earlier. It was her second collaboration with U2, Peter Gabriel and Bob Dylan producer Daniel Lanois, with whom she worked with on 1995's Wrecking Ball. This beautiful and hypnotic collection of covers by great North American musicians including Neil Young, Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Steve Earle, was a move away from the classic country she had offered for over 30 years and won and lost her fans in equal measure.
Lanois protégée Malcolm Burn, who assisted and performed on Wrecking Ball and produced Red Dirt Girl, is back behind the mixing desk. Whilst their fondness for echoing guitars and rumbling drums was what gave these two albums their uniquely atmospheric sound, Burn has a far gentler touch than Lanois and Stumble Into Grace is a more tender experience. Over a bedrock of thudding percussion, ambient washes of guitar and the folky sounds offered by accordions and harmonicas floats the ever beautiful, ever graceful sound of Harris' voice; fragile and delicate whilst giving the impression that any second now a lot of power is going to be unleashed.
Greatly loved and respected throughout the folk and country scene, a host of great artists eagerly accepted Harris invitation to accompany her. Folkies Kate and Anna McGarrigle co-wrote the joyous ''Little Bird'' and square up for a battle of the vibrato on ''Plaisir DAmour'', a traditional song made famous by Joan Baez (the woman responsible for Harris picking up a guitar in the first place). Julie Miller and rock artists Jill Cunniff from Luscious Jackson and Jane Siberry are also present. The latter guests on ''I Will Dream'', a haunting account of unrequited love expressed with poetic dignity (''You say you do not love me/ And your dreams are never of me/ I will dream my dream of you...''). Longtime friend and partner in Trio, Linda Ronstadt, adds her vocals to ''Strong Hand'', a moving celebration of the strength of Johnny and the late June Carter Cash's relationship. It's a standout track on an album which sees Harris continuing to push the boundaries of American music whilst never losing sight of its roots.