Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Concert Review: Emmylou Harris at Massey Hall, Toronto, Ontario - April 15, 2014

Wrecking Ball

It seems to be a growing trend among true artists. Those artists who have been around long enough for us to care about their incredible work long after the radio hits have stopped coming, to go on tour and perform a significant album in their career in its entirety.  And so it is with Emmylou Harris and Wrecking Ball, her Grammy winning (Best Contemporary Folk Album) project from 1995  The album is significant for more than its award winning status ... it is a cornerstone album for the entire Americana movement.  It was Americana before the Americana name really existed, at least in the musical genre sense.  It also set Ms. Harris' career in a new and important direction, as the album was a significant departure from her more familiar radio hits.  It's an album that was created strictly for the music and the strengh and depth of the song. 

So why hit the road and perform the album now?  It's the 19th anniversary not the 20th, which is a significant milestone.  As Ms. Harris put it, "We couldn't wait for the 20th", they had to do it now.  And who could blame them.  Wrecking Ball still resonates with the listener to this day and is so good, why wait.  Take it to the people.  

Performing with a three piece band, which included Wrecking Ball producer Daniel Lanois, Ms. Harris brought the sold out Massey Hall crowd on her journey through all 12 tracks of the album.  The song selection for this album represents one of the strongest collections of songwriters I have seen.  From the opening track "Where Will I Be", written by Daniel Lanois, to "Sweet Old World", written by Lucinda Williams, to the title track written by Neil Young, Ms. Harris and Mr. Lanois created a tapestry that explores spirituality and heartache, love and loss.  Perhaps the finest performance on the album, and indeed the Massey Hall performance, is the version of Bob Dylan's "Every Grain of Sand."  Ms. Harris' has an indellible way to make her listener's feel the joy and pain of every note that she sings. 

An interesting side note to this album and given the show was in Toronto, is the amount of Canadian content that is featured on Wrecking Ball.  As noted by Ms. Harris, the album features the aforementioned producer, Daniel Lanois, the writer of the title track is Neil Young, and the album features "Goin' Back to Harlen" by the late Anna McGarrigle of Montreal.  Anna and Kate McGarrigle have had a long friendship with Emmylou Harris over the years.  A great side note to this particular track, was the exclusion of this song on the Trio album that Ms. Harris did with Linda Rondstadt and Dolly Parton.  Having watched the performance of this song and listening to it on the album, I would agree that it fits better on Wrecking Ball.

Wrecking Ball was more than an important album for the Americana movement.  It marked a new phase in the career of a woman who began as a central figure in the country-rock era in the early 1970's in southern California performing with Gram Parsons.  Wrecking Ball and the albums that have since followed show a veteran artist and performer that is still hungry to explore new territory, one who is not afraid to stretch the boundaries of their creativity.  A show such as this is a wonderful way to revisit a classic album and hear some of the stories associated with its creation from those who were there.  Emmylou Harris and her bandmates commence a tour of Europe where they will perform Wrecking Ball in May.  Check out her web site for tour dates and details.

In the meantime, the album was re-issued on April 8 as a 3 disc package to celebrate the 19th anniversary of its release.  The package will contain the original release of Wrecking Ball on one disc, while a separate disc will contain songs recorded for but not included on the 1995 version.  The third disc is a DVD documentary about the making of Wrecking Ball.  It is a perfect tribute and perfect time to revisit one of the greatest albums from one of the most influential artists of our time, and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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