Looking to reconcile with her lover, she summons up two great musical pairs: Johnny and June Carter Cash and Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons.It’s a delightful conceit, carried off with sincerity.Another common element — one that fits well in Harris’ rich catalog — is the story song.She’s written and covered ballads and biographies ranging from the poignant to the whimsical, sometimes brilliantly both.With an expanded version of that record out this month, the pair launched a tour to promote it Thursday night at the Wiltern, delighting a mostly full house with 18 songs in about an hour and 40 minutes. ,” the Lanois-penned piece that opens the disc, and from there the first hour flowed in track-by-track order, stripping away some spontaneity but also heightening anticipation of each song’s arrival.Hearing these 12 compositions live, you’re struck by how smartly Harris and Lanois chose the material – a few written by him, one or two co-written by her, but most of them covers of other artists’ tunes.The core band — Harris on vocals and acoustic guitar, Lanois on guitars and mandolin, Malcolm Burns on piano and keyboards, and U2’s Larry Mullen, Jr.on percussion — form a solid base that welcomes the guest talents as they join the show.
He produced remarkable, eclectic albums for Peter Gabriel, the Neville Brothers, Bob Dylan, and Robbie Robertson.The last track, “Waltz Across Texas Tonight,” had never been played live during the tour that followed the album’s initial release, Harris noted.“But we thought that since we advertised the whole record, we should work it up.” After that album set, Harris and Lanois played a pair of songs off Acadie – “The Maker” and “Still Water,” the latter of which is included in the reissue’s session outtakes – and then a handful of songs she’s done for years, such as her own “Boulder to Birmingham” and, with Lanois and Wilson on harmony vocals, an a cappella version of the traditional folk tune “Calling My Children Home.” Around the time Harris stopped to explain how she and Lanois had come together on this project, she also remarked how grateful she was “for all the all people who found and loved this record.” Judging by the adoring response that music received here, the love and gratitude flow both ways, from artist to audience and back again. Three strong stories feature on is a rootsy, rough-hewn story of blue-collar love.While it’s not deeply original in concept, Harris’ tender but earthy delivery brings it home.You might know Steve Earle’s original take on “Goodbye,” Neil Young’s “Wrecking Ball,” Jimi Hendrix’s “May This Be Love,” but the beauty of Harris’ voice and Lanois’s arrangements made each its own true thing.(Drummer Steve Nistor and bassist Jim Wilson provided tight, sympathetic accompaniment, and with Lanois, who alternately played mandolin and electric and steel guitar, they also played an opening set.) Highlights of the album portion of the night included the title cut, with Harris’ lilting soprano wringing every drop of emotion from Young’s lyrics, plus a lovely take on Lucinda Williams’ “Sweet Old World” and the Hendrix tune, sung as a duet and finishing with Lanois hugging Harris happily.A strong thread that runs through the album is a celebration of spirituality.While never overtly religious, Harris has touched on spiritual themes before; Lanois’ work — especially with U2 and Dylan — has featured similar conceits.“And he’d also produced Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy, which I also really liked.” “And my record company said we’ve tried to get you on the radio and we can’t, so you tell us what you want to do,” she continued with a glance and a smile at Lanois by her side on stage.“And I said, ‘I want to make a record with Daniel Lanois.” Wrecking Ball, their 1995 collaboration, remodeled Harris’ artistry by placing her distinctive voice in atmospheric settings under the guidance of Lanois, whose production credits include several U2 titles (starting with The Unforgettable Fire), Dylan’s Grammy-winning Time Out of Mind and Peter Gabriel’s Us.