"Mine is no ordinary star, love/I see exactly where you are, love/And no one else could shine that far, love, to bring you safely through … But if Heaven's just a dreaming/Surely my love will be redeeming/And you will dream your dream of me"
— from "I Will Dream"
Recording for 30 years now, Emmylou Harris was one of the first artists to bridge country and folk together with pop and rock–much like Bob Dylan, Alison Krauss, and Over the Rhine. Although she remained a respected artist through the '80s, it wasn't until 1995 when Harris had an artistic reawakening with her album Wrecking Ball. Three years later she released her Grammy Award–winning Red Dirt Girl. Now at the age of 57 comes the intriguingly titled Stumble Into Grace.
The album was produced by Malcom Burn, most famous for working with Dylan and John Mellencamp—but also with Christian group The Normals, shaping their last two CDs and housing them in his own home/studio for A Place Where You Belong. He's assisted this time by longtime friend Daniel Lanois, also a spiritually–minded producer who's worked with Dylan, U2, and Peter Gabriel. For Stumble Into Grace, Harris is joined by longtime friend and guitarist Buddy Miller and on backing vocals by Christian artists Julie Miller (Buddy's wife) and Jane Siberry.
It all adds up to eclectic folk and country with beautiful, gritty vocals and a haunting lyricism heavily influenced by Harris' Christian beliefs. "Little Bird" is an interesting blend of traditional folk, country, and Celtic, and "Plaisir d'Amour" combines the beauty of the elegance of the French language with a timeless acoustic folk sound. Harris offers an elegy to the late June Carter Cash with "Strong Hand," written and recorded in sympathy to a then living Johnny Cash, and featuring backing vocals by Linda Ronstadt. Similar, more spiritual remembrance is offered in "O Evangeline," expressing admiration for one who persevered with faith amid life's crises.
Harris' faith is evident in lyrics responding to worldly strife and brokenness. "Time in Babylon," decrying selfish pursuits and materialistic temptations, is a social commentary worthy of a '60s protest song. Co–written with Lanois, "Lost Unto This World" sounds like the bleakest of Psalms in retelling innocence lost: "Can I get no witness this unholy tale to tell?/Was God the only one there watching and weeping as I fell?" The sadness and yearning for answers is most clearly heard in "Can You Hear Me Now?," as Harris sings, "I'm here just waitin' until the end/I send up my S.O.S., a message in a bottle set out to sea/It just reads 'Soul in distress'/But nobody ever got back to me."
In response to such laments, the comforting "Cup of Kindness" clearly reveals Harris' Catholic beliefs—"And when Mother Mary finally comes to call/She could pass right thru your heart/And leave no trace at all/While you were reaching for the sacred and divine/She was standing right beside you all the time." In "Here I Am," with its Eden imagery from Genesis, there's little question who's doing the talking: "I am in the blood of your heart, the breath of your lung/Why do you run for cover?/You are from the dirt of the earth, and the kiss of my mouth/I have always been your lover." Harris likewise offers unconditional love in "I Will Dream" (excerpted above), which might be a longing for a personal love relationship with God or an earthly beloved. The beauty of Emmylou Harris' latest is her effortless blend of alternative country with poetry that allows listeners to stumble onto themes greater than us.
Unless specified clearly, we are not implying whether this artist is or is not a Christian. The views expressed are simply the author's. For a more complete description of our Glimpses of God articles, click here.