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Concert Reviews:
Emmylou Harris' "Wrecking Ball" rules in Royal Oak

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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ROYAL OAK -- Emmylou Harris was up front with her fans at the start of her show on Monday night, April 8. "No surprises, folks," she noted with a chuckle. "You know what it's gonna be."

And rest assured that was just fine with the capacity crowd at the Royal Oak Music Theatre.

Harris has chosen this year to, somewhat oddly, celebrate the 19th anniversary of her landmark "Wrecking Ball" album. In addition to a just-released deluxe and expanded edition of the set, she's on the road playing "Wrecking Ball" in its entirety -- only this time instead of the Spyboy band that recorded the album with her Harris is fronting a quartet led by "Wrecking Ball's" producer Daniel Lanois, whose spacious, ambient sonic architecture, honed with U2, Peter Gabriel and Bob Dylan, reinvented both Harris and the Americana genre in revolutionary fashion.

So Monday's hour and 40-minute show was effectively "Wrecking Ball's" creators presenting their invention before a rapt audience abundantly familiar with every detail and nuance of the original work. From "Where Will I Be" to "Waltz Across Texas Tonight" it was a rich and loving recitation, with the slight husk Harris' voice has attained during the intervening years only adding to the character of the 12 songs and the Hamilton, Ont.-born Lanois' hypnotic guitar work highlighting the Julie Miller-written "All My Tears," Lucinda Williams' "Sweet Old World," Jimi Hendrix's "May This Be Love" and Harris' gritty, sinewy "Deeper Well."

Other highlights included the Neil Young-penned title track, Gillian Welch's "Orphan Girl," Lanois' "Blackhawk" and the session outtake "Still Water," while Detroit-born drummer Steve Nister -- playing his father's drum kit on Monday night -- drove each song with subtly busy but unobtrusive genre-blending style. Harris offered insightful commentary between songs as well as a heartfelt verbal essay after the runthrough about how "Wrecking Ball" "organically took on a life of its own" and rescued her career from a commercial doldrum.

And rather than trying to top what came before, Harris and company finished the night with some older favorites, including "The Maker," "Boulder to Birmingham" and Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty," while she and Lanois closed with "Songbird" as a tribute to its ailing writer, Jesse Winchester.

Harris' lengthy career is hardly short on highlights, but this celebration of "Wrecking Ball" will certainly sit in the upper echelon of her achievements.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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