Music Review

Lanois finds the right balance with strong ensemble

By Tristram Lozaw
Globe Correspondent / November 19, 2008
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Daniel Lanois has the best of both musical worlds.

He's a Canadian guitar man living happily off the music-biz grid, working on aural experiments in his studio. But he's also the ultimate insider, a rock-star producer for Bob Dylan, the Neville Brothers, and U2, and this week an artist-in-residence at Berklee.

It's within the balance of this yin and yang that Lanois delivered his most solid Boston show in years.

Lanois is touring in support of the 20th anniversary "goldtop" rerelease (named for his Les Paul guitar) of his first solo record, "Acadie," and a DVD/CD set, "Here Is What Is," Adam Vollick's film exploring concepts of art and beauty while documenting the recording of Lanois's soundtrack.

Like the soundtrack, Sunday's set succeeded by building on lessons learned from Lanois's clients: Neville Brothers-like harmonies on "The Messenger"; the Dylan-ish phrasing of "Here Is What Is"; and echoing expansiveness recalling U2 on "Still Water."

Seen up close in Vollick's live video flashing behind the band, Lanois - dressed in black cap and leather jacket, with a full Castro beard - seemed jovial, perhaps energized by the reported "sonic innovations" of the new U2 album he's producing. His singing, as on a soft solo version of "Jolie Louise," had the conviction to match the textural finesse of his snaking, fevered guitar playing and gorgeous pedal steel work.

His band pounded back against the melancholy, adding muscle that sharpened the shifting atmospheres of Lanois's songs, including a 10-minute reworking of "The Maker"; the tribal thumper "Duo Glide"; and "Where Will I Be," a tune written for Emmylou Harris that explored a newly masculine core while retaining its sweet clouds of harmonies.

Fluid, melodic lines and beefy chording from bassist Marcus Blake and guitarist Jim Wilson, both of the band Mother Superior, were top shelf. But the prize in ensemble energy went to "magic man" Brian Blade. Lanois had an intuitive, jazz-like rapport with Blade as he locked into the drummer's explosive intensity and adventurous playfulness.

When Blade dropped the tempo down on "Here Is What Is," Lanois hardly blinked. "That was slower than we usually do it," he said, "but it worked nicely with the words.

"It's that element of surprise. When you lose control, you discover new things."


DANIEL LANOIS At: Berklee Performance Center, Sunday night

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