In Alabama there is a lot of clay in the soil, this gives it a reddish colour. Since 1996 the Professional Soil Classifiers of Alabama (yes, such a body exists !) have recognised the Bama Soil Series (known as Bama for short) as the state soil. The people of Alabama call it the red clay or the red dirt. Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires (remember them from a few months ago ?) from Birmingham, AL have a song called “The Red, Red Dirt Of Home”. The title of this album is Emmylou Harris (herself also from Birmingham, AL) recognising her roots.
“Red Dirt Girl” was the (solo) studio follow up to the career re-defining album “Wrecking Ball” but wasn’t released until 5 years later. In those 5 years Emmylou made “Trio II” with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, “Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions” with Linda Ronstadt and released the live album “Spyboy” with her new backing band, Spyboy, which she formed for a tour to perform songs from “Wrecking Ball”.
One other important thing to note about “Red Dirt Girl” is that Emmylou wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 12 songs, the first time since “The Ballad of Sally Rose” in 1985 that she’d made an album with more than two of her own compositions included. Although Daniel Lanois did not produce this album (it was produced by Malcolm Burn who engineered “Wrecking Ball”) the musical setting he created for “Wrecking Ball” is a lasting and obvious presence here.
First song “The Pearl” would have sat comfortably on her previous album. Some have suggested that the next song, “Michaelangelo”, is about Gram Parsons and reading the lyrics I can see why some might think that. But as Emmylou herself has said “The thing about “Michelangelo,” it could be about anything you want. I like songs like that.”
“Tragedy” sees the coming together of musical heroes of mine. Here backing vocals are supplied by Bruce Springsteen and his wife Patti Scialfa. Now I’m not a huge fan of Patti’s vocal style but Bruce was so taken with it he married her so who am I to pass comment. But to find two giants of American music, the Boss and Emmylou, together in one place pleased me greatly. You hear much more of Patti than you do of Bruce but I’ll settle for knowing he’s in there somewhere.
“Bang The Drum Slowly” includes elements from Eric Bogle’s song "No Man's Land" (a.k.a "The Green Fields of France" or "Willie McBride"), both songs use the refrain "did they beat (bang) the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly". It was written about Emmylou’s father (who passed away in 1993) with great American songwriter Guy Clark who also knew her Dad.
The title song, “My Baby Needs A Shepherd”, “Hour Of Gold” are all superb songs. Probably my favourite on the album is the only one the singer didn’t have a hand in writing (sorry Emmylou). “One Big Love” was penned by Patty Griffin and released on her 1998 album “Flaming Red”, an album on which Emmylou can be heard adding backing vocals. Patty’s version is a vaguely twee College Rock style thing whereas Emmylou slows things down just a little, gives it more of a groove and her voice on anybody’s song can only make it better.
The influence of Daniel Lanois and the making of her previous album are all over “Red Dirt Girl”.
Red Dirt Girl - https://youtu.be/nzwnYC_wJ1g