Song 112: Emmylou Harris, “Every Grain of Sand” (1995)


There’s something about the people you love loving something. Lizzie has introduced me to so much great music over the years, especially Lyle Lovett, who became an early reason for our friendship and subsequent relationship.

She’s no snob, but Lizzie tends to focus her love on a handful of musicians. When she gets really interested in someone, whether it’s Lyle or her beloved Sonny Rollins, she’ll listen to the same song over and over, picking up new lyrics and phrases each time. I find this very endearing. Sometimes I wish I could listen to music that way, instead of like a toddler on a sugar high.

One of the artists Lizzie told me about was Emmylou Harris, specifically her incredible record Wrecking Ball. The album is something of an anomaly, I later discovered, an ethereal, hazy album that’s very different from the straightforward (but equally brilliant) country music that came before. Wrecking Ball was produced by Daniel Lanois, and his signature sound—warm, sharp percussion; lots and lots of reverb—is all over this thing. He followed up Wrecking Ball with Bob Dylan’s Time out of Mind, and the two collections, both about life, love, and growing old, make a beautiful pair. (Lanois also produced U2’s Achtung Baby, and the record certainly has some U2-sounding moments, especially with the band’s drummer playing percussion here.)

Wrecking Ball is amazing. Lanois’s production perfectly suits Harris’s voice, that unbelievable force of nature that’s somehow both airy and full of heft. “Every Grain of Sand” is a Dylan song, and Harris’s version is miles above the original, extrapolating Dylan’s spiritual message by giving the song a tone that feels like the spiritual it is. The drums, syncopated but steady, are what drive this song, reflecting the unfailing guiding force of the song’s narrator.

I love this song, and I love that my wife loves it. “Every Grain of Sand” was on one of the first mixtapes Lizzie made for me, and it will always make me think of her.


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