The album that both reinvented Emmylou, and invented the alt.country genre, Wrecking Ball occupies as unique a position in the modern rock canon as any album that the '90s threw up. Chronologically falling in between Nevermind and OK Computer (the two albums generally credited with zapping the decade's zeitgeist), but stylistically stepping way beyond even those albums' genre-busting credentials, Wrecking Ball is an album that still holds its secrets close today; and it's remarkable to discover that its earliest stages were just as spellbinding as the finished, fully produced effort.
Few of the performances are actually demos; rather, they constitute rough mixes of songs recorded during sessions at Nashville Woodland studios, before the production moved onto Kingsway Studios. Three songs not found on the original album emerge - "Never Be Gold," the most traditional sounding number on the set, with moments that sound oddly like "Coat Of Many Colours"; the spookily Spartan "Still Water," which producer Daniel Lanois himself recorded on Acadie; and Richard Thompson's "How Will I Ever Be Simple Again," presented with a martial backing that puts one in mind of Eliza Carthy's more eclectic moments. Why it never made the finished LP is a question we might never answer. (Absent from the disc are the album's "Where Will I Be," "Blackhawk" and "Going Back To Harlan".)
Elsewhere, although the basic tracks are the same as the familiar LP versions, the presentation is vastly different, lacking backing vocals and an arsenal of overdubs.
Harris' vocals are
as raw as you've ever heard them, and all the more beautiful for it, aching
with a vulnerability that is rarely given such free rein on her regular
albums. Equally, stripping away the multiple layers that Lanois brought
to the final album brings a whole new emotional element to the songs,
a naked beauty that Harris herself had not really exercised since the
underproduced days of Elite Hotel/Pieces of the Sky. Compare the two versions
of "Wrecking Ball" itself, and you decide which will haunt you longest.
- Dave Thompson
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