Pop Emmylou Harris Jazz Cafe, London
Monday 30 September 1996
At the first of three nights at the Jazz Cafe, Harris was an impossibly charismatic figure. Though she's cropped her startling silver-birch mane, she still looks closer to 19 than 50. It's a ghostly beauty that perfectly fits the apocalyptic air of her new work. All-engulfing maverick Lanois wasn't with her, perhaps a good thing, but his supple bandmates, jazz- based drummer Brian Blades and R&B bassist Daryl Johnson brought a smoky Delta heat and echoing rumble to shadow Harris's unearthly vocal.
A set of seismic proportions went on long into the night, taking in tributes like a laid-back "Love Hurts", her own "Pancho and Lefty" and Marvin Gaye's "Abraham, Martin and John", but Wrecking Ball dominated proceedings. The Neil Young title track, a haunted waltz for sombre, stately skeletons; Steve Earle's desperate "Goodbye", a grainy hymn to lost love on which her growling voice broke against steel guitar and tacit drum rolls; and a cool, shivering take on Hendrix's "Waterfall (May This Be Love)".
But perhaps the evening's stand-out was "Deeper Well". Co-written by Lanois andDave Oiney, the song welds tribal drums, keening slide guitar and cymbals of dry lightning to frame a tale of obsession and addiction, asearch for sustenance in a parched landscape. By turns howling or cynically bitter, Harris's voice was the cry of a spectre after an American armageddon. Working best at a lower register, delivering a disturbing, world-weary clarity and insight, neo-country's rhinestone-free queen took her audience into a smoky twilight zone, proving how visionary a certain sadness can be.
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