Having not written an LP dominated by her own compositions until 2000’s Red Dirt Girl, Emmylou Harris has nevertheless cultivated a sterling reputation for unique cover songs since her 1975 Warner Bros. debut album, Pieces of the Sky. Much of the material Harris has interpreted since that time has been either classic country (Hank Williams, Dolly Parton), mellow folk and pop-rock (James Taylor, the Beatles), or, more recently, gritty Americana (Rodney Crowell, Patty Griffin). Yet, she can also be counted on to draw from more left-field sources, having in the past, for instance, recorded Donna Summer’s disco tune “On the Radio” as a country ballad, and given the Fifties hit “Mr. Sandman” the bubbly Trio treatment in harmony with Parton and Linda Ronstadt.
In 1995, Harris, moving from Nashville’s division of Warner Bros. to the Elektra label, veered from mainstream country music and made one of the most acclaimed albums of her career. Wrecking Ball (titled after a Neil Young tune) was produced by Daniel Lanois, previously best known for his collaborations with ambient-music icon and producer Brian Eno, with whom he co-produced U2’s career-making albums, The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree, among others. Lanois, who contributed the writing of “Blackhawk” and co-writing of “Deeper Well,” to the LP, also joined Harris on one of the more adventurous covers of her career, a thrilling, intense take on one of the most unusual Jimi Hendrix originals of the rock guitarist’s short, meteoric career, “May This Be Love.”
Abuzz with electric guitars and atmospherically dense, unlike the melodic Hendrix original which was driven largely by an uncharacteristically sweet, more soulful Hendrix vocal, the Harris-Lanois collaboration was given an additional acoustic rendition in 2014 for the deluxe version of Wrecking Ball, emphasizing rhythm and melody and getting closer to the spirit of Hendrix’s 1967 original from Are You Experienced, which also contained such Hendrix classics as “Purple Haze,” “Foxy Lady” and “Hey Joe.” “May This Be Love” had previously been covered in 1990 by the Pretenders, on the album, Packed!
Hendrix, who would have turned 75 years old today, died of a drug overdose in