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September 15, 2008 | by  | in Music |
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Classic Review: Emmylou Harris – Red Dirt Girl

There is something disgustingly Freudian about loving Emmylou Harris. Yes, she is sexually exciting, but she’s old enough to be my grandmother. Her music is beautiful and enticing … but it’s country! What does this say about me?

Not a hell of a lot it seems, since Red Dirt Girl (2000) is hardly your conventional country album. Emmylou Harris is one of the most progressive and renowned contemporary artists in her genre and on Red Dirt Girl she displays how she can look forward and reach to new colourful pastures with her sound, while keeping her post in the traditional bedrock of country music.

There is no denying Red Dirt Girl produces true, gutsy country music, beautified with Emmylou’s personal touches. The traditional country slide guitar is there, but it’s warped and distorted, creating an ambience that could be paralleled with Sigur Rós. The acoustic guitar is thin in the country way, but yet deep and brooding, as if doting on the skeletons in its closet. And if you need further evidence you need look no further than Emmylou’s shaky Southern accent (pronouncing ‘dirt’ as ‘durrt’), wailing out forlorn stories of Alabama.

David Crosby once said “Country music has always been about telling a story. If you don’t have a story, you don’t have a country song.” Perhaps what makes Red Dirt Girl so compelling is Emmylou’s storytelling, as she collects her small-town life experiences and musical ability to haul them to new places, reciting remarkable dusttinted tales along the road. The album is positively bursting with alcoholic fairytales of the south; perhaps this is where Red Dirt Girl collects its name.

The Red Dirt Girl herself is ‘Lilian’, who had always dreamed of a bigger life away from her ‘red dirt town’, but only lives to witness an abusive father, her brother’s death in Vietnam, an early pregnancy and consequential wedlock, culminating in her addiction to alcohol and tablets. She never does leave that town. Cool.

If you’re not into country but still open-minded then don’t worry, this isn’t like what your mum listens to. Emmylou uses noises, beeps and samples (including the odd dial tone) to aide her storytelling and enrich her music.

Maybe it is this innovation why Red Dirt Girl is so beloved.

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