On her 29th album, Emmylou Harris continues the evolution from innocent folkie to present day renaissance woman. Alternately sparse and lush, Red Dirt Girl can be seen as a companion piece to 1995's Wrecking Ball with the production credits going to Malcom Burn (who previously worked with Harris engineering and mixing Wrecking Ball). Here, drum loops and middle eastern melodies nestle in comfortably next to warm guitar work and Harris' gently wavering voice. Her extensive guest work on dozens and dozens of recent releases (showing up on albums by everyone from Guy Clark to Midnight Oil) pays off with great help from Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, Buddy and Julie Miller, Guy Clark, Kate McGarrigle, and even alt-rock upstarts Dave Matthews and Luscious Jackson's Jill Cunniff. The diverse production only adds to Harris' earthy songwriting, adding interest to what could otherwise be lulls during the more subdued songs, and really showcases the understated lyrics that the singer has slowly become recognized for. The teary dirge "Bang the Drum Slowly" written for her father (who died in 1993) wrings with emotion and ethereal atmosphere, while "J'ai Fait Tout" (co-written with Cunniff) is an upbeat and jangly pop song, complete with hip-shakin' tambourine. While this is a big departure from her rootsy '70s releases like Blue Kentucky Girl and Roses in the Snow, it still burns with an honest intensity and clear voice that Harris is known for 20 years later.
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AllMusic Review by Zac Johnson