Thursday, September 6, 2012

New Soundtrack Work, Upcoming Releases Highlight Busy Months For Emmylou

Emmylou Harris has entered into a stretch of work that sees three releases out in the coming months, plus the promise of a landmark tour as well, and some special one-off performances of classic material.  Out right now is the soundtrack to the new movie Lawless, on which Harris is a guest vocalist.  As well she just performed at Daniel Lanois' Greenbelt Harvest Picnic in Dundas, Ontario, doing a rare set of tunes from her classic 1995 album Wrecking Ball, which Lanois produced.

The Wrecking Ball performance on Sept. 1 was the second time Harris had teamed up with Lanois and his band to revisit the disc, having performed it last year at the inaugural Picnic.  This time, there were extra hands on board that made it even more special:  drummer Brian Blade had played on those 1995 sessions, as had Lanois associate Malcolm Burn, who went on to produce the next two Harris albums after Wrecking Ball.  The performance had the feeling of a family reunion, and Harris was clearly pleased to revisit the tracks.  "It's just such a wonderful chance to do these songs with Dan, it's a totally different thing," she said after the show  "He's so unique, he has a totally different sound.  All musicians are unique, they have their own thumb print.  But he's got a big thumb," she added, laughing.

Wrecking Ball remains a highlight in Harris' career, a favourite for many fans, and certainly one of Harris's own picks.  "I think it's a watershed," she says of that album.  "I think I had been treading water, I think my records were good, I always put my best effort, and I worked with great people, but ...I was at a log jam, and I almost didn't know I had it until Dan came along and blew it up with that record.  All kinds of new rhythms and new melodies and stuff just came flooding through."

It turns out that the close musicians of this group, including Harris and Lanois, have decided to make these Wrecking Ball performances a semi-regular event.  "It's not a bad thing to just do that once a year," says Harris, "because it's so great to do those songs with Dan, and of course having Brian Blade there this year, who was so much a part of the record, and Malcolm!  So that's really nice, and we're going to do it in Nashville next month for a benefit for animal rescue we're working on.  So we do it, but for benefits, for the greater good."

Fans of the album will be thrilled to learn about the imminent release of a deluxe version of the album:  "It's actually going to be re-released, I hope pretty soon, with some extra tracks, alongside also the wonderful long-form video that (Dan's brother) Bob Lanois filmed, called Building The Wrecking Ball. So I think there's a package heading our way."

At this point, Harris isn't sure if that will come first, or another special disc, her newest recordings.  Harris has teamed up again with two people from the start of her solo career, singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, and producer Brian Ahern.  Crowell came to fame after a couple of his cuts were chosen for Harris' debut disc, 1975's Pieces Of The Sky.  Crowell then joined her group The Hot Band, and eventually became a hit artist in his own right.  But he and Emmylou had always talked about doing a complete album of his songs.  "Rodney and I just finished a record, long awaited," Harris confirms.  "You think you have all the time in the world, and then one day I went, man, you know, if we're going to do this record, we gotta do it, you just never know how long you're going to be around.  It was on my bucket list, that record with Rodney, almost since the first day we met.  It's done now, and Brian Ahern produced it.  I think February is the date they're putting out there, but we'll see.  I really can't wait for it to come out, because I want to go out there and do some touring with him and sing some songs."

Meanwhile, Harris is a big part of a very cool CD soundtrack put together by the team of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.  Cave's most recent script-writing project has been for the movie Lawless, which is set in the rural U.S. during the prohibition era, and follows some reckless bootleggers.  He and fellow Bad Seed Ellis also crafted the music, and it's a big step beyond the usual package of already-recorded tunes.  Cave selected a diverse group of singers, including Harris, bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, and Seattle rocker Mark Lanegan, and wrote or selected an equally-mixed bunch of songs to fit the movie.  Harris is the singer on a couple of Cave/Ellis originals, the haunting Cosmonaut, and a recurring theme in the movie, Fire In The Blood.  She also gets to do Townes Van Zandt's Snake Song, and one by James Lyttle, So You'll Aim Towards The Sky.  Stanley is put to interesting use, singing on a Capt. Beefheart blues, Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do, and also croaking to the Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat.  Somehow Cave and Ellis make it all sound period and believable, rivaling the best of T Bone Burnett's soundtrack work.

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