Every sense Phil Spector and John Martin helped craft the direction of the Beatles, the role of the producer in music has gained a higher profile. During the ’80s few were as hot as Daniel Lanois . After producing albums for Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris and U2, he became one of the most sought after names in music. His distinct approach to production gave any material he touched a grounded earthy yet otherworldly touch.
His two U2 projects, The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree raised him to the level of U2 itself, making Lanois something like a phantom 5th member of the Irish rock band. So when the time came around late in the decade for Lanios to release his own material, there was much anticipation. After all this was the man who made Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan cool again.
The resulting album Acadie, neatly sums up the gritty and earthy style Lanois had been refining for more than half a decade. Recorded in New Orleans, it features songs sung in French and English (or sometimes both). Those compositions like “O Marie” or “Jolie Louise” have a cartoonish feel to them, a kind of old world charm like what one might hear in the crowded markets of Paris. Those songs reveal a lighter side of the Lanois sound.
Other material more consistent with the production work he built his reputation on is where he really shines as an artist. With a voice that can be as passionate as Bono’s, Lanois reveals his trademark style with haunting melodies on “The Maker”, one of the album’s standout tracks and only single. Aaron Nevil (normally a voice I can’t stand) adds depth and soul to a song that could easily be mistaken for an old hym.
Lanois was also well versed in extracting a facade of spirituality from the artist he worked with. In his own music, a neo-gospel flair was often the end result. The Joshua Tree was a great example of this implied spirituality.
If at times Acadie sounded like a U2 album it was by design. Both Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. are credited as well as longtime collaborator Brian Eno. There were other luminaries involved with the project including the other Nevil brother Art.
It was Aaron Nevil’s delivery on the Lanois version of “Amazing Grace” that really set the tone of the album beyond the festive French language songs on Acadie. The song, like others shows Lanois uncanny ability to turn otherwise cold sounding synthesizers into warm earthy instruments of spiritual connection.
This was Lanois at the height of his creative powers. His sound to me was like to loose dirt, but not in a bad way. The mystic and gritty nature of his productions made for a distinctive sound that revealed both soulful and progressive impulses – like unearthing something old and ancient. No song better illustrated this sound than “The Maker”. It was one of the best singles of 1989 and should have charted higher just on his affiliation with U2 alone.
So as it stands Acadie will likely be one of those gems that most new fans of Peter Gabriel or U2 will discover on their own thanks to smart playlists form always connected internet sources. It’s actually a great time to be a music fan.