Before Springsteen, Emmylou Harris Released a Great “Wrecking Ball”
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 the same name from seventeen years ago when Emmylou Harris released her own Wrecking Ball in 1995. The Daniel Lanois production and the atmospheric effects on the album created a career-changing sound. Allmusicargued 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 a couple of the great songs on the album.
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 also captures the aching in the song. On the album, Earle loaned his guitar playing to help create a wonderful 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.”
And those are only two songs on Wrecking Ball, which in addition to Steve Earle, includes guest appearances by Lucinda Williams and Neil Young each playing on one of their songs. The CD also features a beautiful cover of Gillian Welch’s “Orphan Girl” and Harris’s cover of Bob Dylan’s masterpiece, “Every Grain of Sand” from his Shot of Love(1981) album.
Between Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball and Harris’s Wrecking Ball, 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 powerful Wrecking Balls.
A longer version of this post about Wrecking Ball appeared on:
What is your favorite song on Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball?