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So has Harris. Instead of making the followup to Cowgirl's Prayer a valentine to the country marketplace, she moved into an entirely new arena with Wrecking Ball. What spurred this switch was a chance conversation with a staffer at her record company, Asylum. "I was asked if I had thought about trying a different producer to kind of shake things up," she recalls. "And I said no, I actually hadn't, but if I could work with anybody, I would like to work with Daniel Lanois, because I was so moved by his records. It was just an idea, but it turned into reality when Daniel had the time and the inclination to do it."
Lanois, a solo artist and Brian Eno protege who's best known for his work with Peter Gabriel, immediately took control. "I just sort of turned the ballgame over to him as far as picking the musicians and so on," Harris concedes. "And he put together a really interesting ensemble."
Players such as U2's Larry Mullen Jr. contribute to the texture of Wrecking Ball, as do a number of special guests--Neil Young, Steve Earle and Anna McGarrigle among them. But what really makes the disc hang together is the fragile, mysterious mood Lanois and Harris create. "I thought of my voice as an instrument in the ensemble during the recording process," she allows. "I don't ever like to think of myself as the person out front, with a backing band behind me. I always feel better being part of a whole. And so with Daniel, I brought him a bunch of songs that I liked, and we started from there. We knocked around ideas and tried some different things in the studio. It was very much a team project."
For her part, Harris says, "I didn't know exactly what I was going to do, but I never do. And that's actually one of the wonderful parts of making a record. I love the surprises and learning how you can unlock the meaning and the emotional impact of a song."
Her tremendous success in this regard on Wrecking Ball has followers eagerly awaiting her further adventures. But Harris knows better than to try and rush inspiration. "This album has turned out to be a real gift that came to me mainly because I paid attention to the opportunities that presented themselves," she remarks. "And fortunately, I find myself in a really lucky place. There's not this pressure to sell millions of records. I have a smaller, pretty loyal audience that I think likes change and wants to be surprised. And I feel that I always will find an audience for what I do. Whatever that is.
"I'm still pretty intensely involved with this record. But I have a confidence that at some point I'll know what I'll want to embark on next. I don't know what it will be or when it will be, but maybe I'll know by then what fork in the road I'll want to take."
Emmylou Harris, with the Innocence Mission. 9 p.m. Friday, April 19, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax, $20, 830-2525 or 1-800-444-
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