======= LINDA RONSTADT & EMMYLOU HARRIS "Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions" (Asylum) No disrespect to Dolly Parton, but jettisoning the third wheel of their Trio supergroup has freed Harris and Ronstadt to explore more adventuroius notions of what Harris's mentor, Gram Parsons, called cosmic American music. Ronstadt's voice is only slightly less powerful today than it was at its peak. Wisely, she channels her energy into unique and subtle phrasings. of course, that's always been the more ethereal Harris's forte, but singing so much with the formidable Ronstadt forces her to be more assertive, with bracing results. As you'd expect, angelic harmonies abound on covers of Leonard Cohen's "Sisters of Mercy" and Rosanne Cash's title song. Perfect as that sounds, though, it's the least predictable songs-the French-inflected war lament "1917", the borderline goofy, sexily syncopated "Sweet Spot"-that make "Western Wall" a vital work as well as a gorgeous showcase. -Bob Strauss, Los Angeles Daily News
Friday, August 20, 1999
By Jerry Sharpe
LINDA RONSTADT AND EMMYLOU HARRIS
Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions (Asylum)
This album isn't country. It isn't rock or folk or pop. In fact, it isn't anything I've heard before. But it's delightfully good because two of pop and country's best singers toss aside all formulas and just have fun making good music.
Linda Ronstadt's voice is great as ever in her 53rd year. Emmylou Harris, 52, always had a fragile voice, and it's used just right on this 13-song CD. The recording was done under the production of Glyn Johns, who worked with the two women and Dolly Parton on the "Trio II" album. But this new one was recorded in a makeshift studio in Tucson's Arizona Inn, and for authenticity, the CD cover includes a good photo of that city's famed San Xavier Del Bac mission.
Most of the songs aren't well known, but who cares. This is acoustic music at its best. Ronstadt takes the lead on the opening song "Loving the Highway Man," and Harris' soft, plaintive voice handles the lead of the mysterious "Raise the Dead." The women alternate leads on the pleading "He Was Mine" and join in great harmony against soft guitars and muted drum backup.
There's also a beautiful interpretation of Bruce Springsteen's "Across the Border" as Neil Young adds harmonica and joins the women on harmony.
One of the deepest, richest musical journeys of recent years, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt's
WESTERN WALL: THE TUCSON SESSIONS stakes out turf quite distinct from their Trio incarnation
with Dolly Parton. Separately and together, the pair delve deeply into the material, coming up with
performances nothing short of astounding in their delicacy and nuance. This is vocal artistry of the
highest caliber. The songs are by the likes of Jackson Browne, Rosanne Cash (her eerie "Western Wall"
gives the album its title), Leonard Cohen, and Bruce Springsteen -- and Harris has three songwriter
credits here, as well. Each narrative examines lives in the balance and decisions made that will alter
personal histories. Newcomer Patty Griffin and the underappreciated veteran David Olney steal the show
with, respectively, "Falling Down," a powerful account of a soul reduced to utter chaos, and "1917," an
exquisite recounting of a woman's tragic night of love with a doomed soldier. And there's some humor,
too, notably on the suggestive "Sweet Spot," co-written by Harris and Luscious Jackson's Jill Cuniff, with
Harris and Ronstadt cooing in unison, "Baby, when you take a shower / I'll be your sweet spot." A rich,
multifaceted recording by two of American music's lodestones, WESTERN WALL: THE TUCSON
SESSIONS is one for the ages. The more you listen, the more you hear.
Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt have always taken chances with their music, and this time they
throw down the challenge with songs about journeys -- of the heart and the mind, of the body and the
spirit, of times lost and times remembered, of lessons learned and truths sought out. In a thoughtful and
passionate version of Rosanne Cash's "Western Wall," they explore the contradictions of faith; on "All I
Left Behind," they plumb the mixed feelings of looking back. Passing lead and harmony lines back and
forth with the confidence of the old friends they are, they dig into deep subjects: death (Jackson
Browne's "For a Dancer"), war (David Olney's "1917"), the changes of love ("He Was Mine," "Sweet
Spot"), and hope (Bruce Springsteen's "Across the Border"). At a time when both could easily rest on
past laurels, Ronstadt and Harris have challenged themselves musically and lyrically. WESTERN WALL
doesn't give up all its treasures on first hearing, but that's all right...you'll be compelled to listen again.
3 1/2 stars ( out of four):
Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris, Western Wall: The Tucson
Nothing succeeds like success, and the surprise success of Ronstadt and Harris' Trio II collaboration with Dolly Parton this year succeeded in forcing the completion of this long-planned duet album. Without Parton, Ronstadt and Harris focus less on traditional music than on contemporary songwriters, including Jackson Browne, Patty Griffin and Sinead O'Connor, though Harris conjures the ghosts of Bill Monroe, Hank Williams and Robert Johnson on the unsettling Raise the Dead. The stark, Southwestern arrangements provide intimate settings for the singers' luminous voices, particularly on Rosanne Cash's title track and Leonard Cohen's Sisters of Mercy.
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