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Emmylou Harris Has Much to Teach About the Power of Belief

Pop Music Review

July 10, 2001|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Emmylou Harris' seminar on the power of faith at the Sun Theatre might have been attributed to the fact that she made her latest stop in Anaheim on a Sunday night.

It might, that is, except that Harris exhibits the same faith in her own instincts every other night of the week.

The show was her first Los Angeles-area appearance since last fall's release of "Red Dirt Girl," a high-water-mark album in a 27-year, high-water-mark recording career. Harris didn't flinch from making its challenging new songs the cornerstone of her performance.

So rather than just surveying her legacy as one of pop's most inspiring artists, she added to it.

The songs from "Red Dirt Girl," most of which she wrote, cast everyday lives in mythological terms, placing individuals' struggles along the continuum of human travail. That covers territory from obsessive love ("I Don't Wanna Talk About It Now") and faded love ("Boy From Tupelo") to busted dreams ("Red Dirt Girl").

With her 1995 Daniel Lanois-produced "Wrecking Ball" album, she transcended the world of country rock she had reigned over during the previous two decades. Her band of recent years, Spyboy, allows her to excel on a broader sonic playing field.

Guitarist and singer Buddy Miller, bassist Tony Hall and drummer Brady Blade extend her remarkable record for surrounding herself with adventurous, consummately skilled musical collaborators. Miller's use of pealing harmonic overtones and thick, distortion-drenched chords brought out the yearning, sometimes tortured undercurrent of the "Red Dirt Girl" songs.

Harris supplemented her latest songs with three from "Wrecking Ball" and a handful of older numbers as reconfigured on her 1998 "Spyboy" live album.

She scored additional points by featuring a fellow musical explorer as her opening act. Singer-songwriter Joe Henry emphasized his critically lauded new album, "Scar," which fuses lyrics of romantic desolation with musical backing often evoking the otherworldliness of David Lynch composer Angelo Badalamenti, spiced with quasi-Latin jazz-rock-funk grooves.

Henry and his three-piece band at times seemed overmatched by the 1,200-seat Sun's large stage and cavernous interior. Although he might have delivered more emotional power in a smaller facility, and perhaps have been better able to exploit more of "Scar's" lyrical and musical nuances, Henry still produced a frequently chilling excursion down love's dark road.

* Emmylou Harris and Joe Henry play tonight at 7 at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. $36. (323) 461-3673.

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