Thirty seconds into “I Love You,” the first track off of Shine, Daniel Lanois’ warm, watery guitar signature is already unmistakable, even before his voice entwines ecstatically with Emmylou Harris’. Shine is the third Lanois album to appear under his own name, and his first in a decade. What is immediately startling about Shine is how spare it is. There is a plethora of sounds and textures to be sure, but they are suspended in space, looking not outside to communicate but toward the heart as a mirror, as if to make certain that the music played is not necessarily accurate but is true. Folk, country, blues, psychedelia, and atmosphere are wound together into an inseparable knot. Lanois played almost all of the instruments here, with the exception of drums, handled by Brian Blade and occasionally his brother, Brady. Other musicians, such as longtime musical collaborator Malcolm Burn and bassist Darryl Johnson, make appearances. Beginning with “I Love You,” with its acceptance and pleading need (lent great credence by Harris’ singing) and on into “Falling at Your Feet,” a duet co-written with U2′s Bono during the All That You Can’t Leave Behind sessions, to the third track, “As Tears Go By,” with a sampled guitar line by blues guitar legend Charley Patton, it is clear that Lanois is writing from a place more vulnerable, more spiritually conscious, and yet more strident than ever before. Where Acadie was full of warmth and intimacy, it felt like a collection of songs that had been assembled from many sessions. For the Beauty of Wynona, with all of its experimentation and poetic songwriting, was a far more unified project, but it was reliant on its wide-ranging sonic attack to support those adventurous words and melodies. Here, everything is balanced; the scope is small, close, and textured by pedal steel guitars, very organic percussion, and Lanois’ voice way up front. On the instrumentals, such as “Transmitter,” “Matador,” “Space Kay,” and the closer, “JJ Leaves La,” the same whispering feel is evident. The songs on Shine feel like confessions, prayers even, not only to a superior being, but to lovers, full of brokenness and the willingness to learn and heal; they are wrapped in the soil of North America, from Montreal to Mexico; they feel rooted in not only the earth, but in spirituality and a willingness to open to the forces of the heart itself. The instrumentals create a sense of movement through time and space to anchor the intent of the vocal tracks. His instincts are nearly perfect: When the weight of a particular series of songs begins to move the listener too far in one direction, an instrumental or two appears, allowing one to drift in its ambience for a short time. After a pair of instrumentals (“Matador” and “Space Kay”), “Slow Giving” and “Fire” are hymns to unseen angels who may indeed represent living characters or those who’ve passed after imparting some gift. Clearly Lanois’ protagonist relies on them heavily in the dark times with a lyricism that is sophisticated, literate, poetic, and soulful. That’s a rare combination. The album closes with the pedal steel tune “JJ Leaves LA.” The steel guitar was Lanois’ first instrument, and its gentility and sweetness are tempered only by its pervasive melancholy, leaving the listener with a sense of bittersweet longing and a sense that some kind of story has been told, a series of snapshots have been shown that reveal something, postcards have been sent and arrived unexpectedly, and the only way to unravel the mystery is play the record again. – Thom Jurekmore »
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