Recording of January 1990: Acadie

Opal/Warner Bros. 25969-1 (LP), -2 (CD). Daniel Lanois, prod.; Malcolm Burn, Mark Howard, engs. AAA/AAD. TT: 41:19

Why is it that the most US-sounding rock/folk musicians almost always turn out to be Canadian? Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, The Band—even Dylan was born and raised only a few miles south of the border. Perhaps there's something about those long grey winters that cramps the ego and keeps you woodshedding just to stay warm.

And now there's Daniel Lanois. Of course, "now" is misleading—he's recorded with Brian Eno, and masterfully produced albums by U2 (The Unforgettable Fire, Joshua Tree), the Neville Brothers (Yellow Moon), and Bob Dylan (Oh Mercy). Those studio streets were obviously two-way: Acadie bears healing scars of influence from each collaboration.

There's much mystery in these fragile songs; songs that are not so much "about" anything as, instead, collections of haunting phrases holding patterns like a swarm of starlings turning in flight, images half-torn by knifelike north winds. The music supports in kind, with a feeling of never-to-be-repeated musical meetings, ephemeral ensembles learning a song just well enough to lay it down once on tape, then drifting off to other pickup bands—like a floating Basement Tapes of the '90s. Each song is different (some are in French), with carefully chosen sounds and instruments, often recycled from tapes lying around—a Neville Bros. drum track here, an Aaron Neville vocal there, both left over from the Yellow Moon sessions. In fact, Lanois's candid notes for each song tell you more about how a studio-oriented musician assembles music these days than any ten articles you could read. His notes to "White Mustang II": "On a small portable recorder I did 20 takes of this guitar instrumental—my friend Pierre Marchand listened to them all and picked out the best. In England, Brian [Eno] played many beautiful keyboard parts—a sort of sound sculpture behind a lonely guitar. James May, a New Orleans trumpet player, was playing outside my window. I invited him in to do an overdub. Much later, Malcolm [Burn] did the mix."

Amazingly, all this serendipity and surgery ends up sounding homemade, funky, natural, and right, whether studio seams show or not: Acadie is a very "electronic" album drenched with the sonorities of acoustic guitar. With Lanois's often bleak, Old-Testament lyrics—I'm thinking particularly of "The Maker," a shadowy walk with God—there's the feeling that this album could have been made any time in the last 20 years, reminding me of nothing so much as some late '60s/early '70s Warners releases, particularly those of the Beau Brummels.

I've got all kinds of appreciative notes for every one of Acadie's dozen tunes, but I can't spare the space. This is one of those rare albums that rockers, folkies, and Windham Hillbillies alike can claim as their own, without feeling in the least hyphenated. Recommended.

Little difference between LP and CD, but the former is a bit deeper, more cohesive, more integrated; and with such multi-layered mixes, you want that depth. Get the LP.—Richard Lehnert