Emmylou Harris

Stumble into Grace

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There's something just the slightest bit comic about calling an Emmylou Harris album Stumble into Grace. While Harris has always sounded as if both earthly and spiritual grace were created with her in mind, when she sings, it seems she can no more stumble than a dolphin can be taught to walk on dry land. Stumble into Grace finds Harris following in the same creative path she began to pursue with Wrecking Ball and Red Dirt Girl, which is to say that the influence of her country-influenced material is more felt than heard as she dips her toes into the spectral and atmospheric accents of folk, indie pop, and world music. While Harris has long been just as interested in nuance and blank spaces as the notes of her songs, producer Malcolm Burn (who also collaborated with her on Red Dirt Girl) knows what to make of the purposefully spare surfaces of these new songs (which, again, like Red Dirt Girl, were, for the most part, written by Harris herself), and the results are splendid. Part of the revelation of Wrecking Ball and Red Dirt Girl was hearing Harris moving in a startling new direction, and while Stumble into Grace seems less novel in the context of its immediate predecessors, the bitter clarity of "Time in Babylon," the gentle but energetic textures of "Little Bird," and the funky shuffle of "Jupiter Rising" confirm that she hasn't run out of new avenues to explore. After three decades as a world-class talent, what's most heartening is that Harris is not only making some of the finest music of her career at a time when many artists would be treading water, but she's delightfully confounding expectations at the same time. Stumble into Grace shows she's still playing at the top of her game.

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