A heartfelt reconstructionist for her entire 20-year career, Emmylou Harris makes barriers fall with Wrecking Ball (Elektra/Asylum), a dozen disparate songs produced by Daniel Lanois. Harris, who began expanding the parameters of country music in 1977, reinterprets Steve Earle's Goodbye as a dirge, while Neil Young's title track becomes a twirling tune of raw desire. But the real winner is her lilting cover of Lucinda Williams' Sweet Old World. Wrecking Ball offers spiritual country music that country radio won't touch.
Radio has embraced Garth Brooks. Fresh Horses (Capitol/Nashville) is his first studio record in more than two years. Surprisingly, Brooks is confined by a back-to-basics approach, recalling his late-Eighties records. There are just two adventurous stretches: Brooks' vivid tenor on Ireland (a dramatic ballad about a native son's return to his homeland) and a goofy cover of Aerosmith's The Fever. With the exception of It's Midnight Cinderella, the rest is predictable.