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Belladonna daze
Daniel Lanois teams up with Tortoise
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Daniel Lanois's official Web site

Producer and guitarist Daniel Lanois is pissed off. Although he made his new Belladonna (Anti-) in the laid-back, airy spaces of Mexicoís Baja Peninsula, heís a long-time New Orleans resident, and heís reeling over the Bush administrationís bungling of the Katrina disaster.

"Itís a very sad situation, and again, the losers are the poor," he says quietly. After we chat for a while about how the Bush-ites have in a few short years managed to turn the Great American Dream into the Great American Clusterfuck, Lanois does mention a personal silver lining ó Belladonna and the tour heís about to launch with slow-rock whiz kids Tortoise as his backing band. After a couple days practicing in Tortoiseís home base, Chicago, the jaunt begins next Thursday with a show at the Somerville Theatre.

If the pairing of the producer whoís made hit albums for Peter Gabriel, U2, Willie Nelson, and Emmylou Harris with the kings of Chicago post-rock seems unlikely, well, these are the facts. Before Tortoise, there was Tortoiseís incrementally evolving ambient music, which was pioneered in the pop world by musician and producer Brian Eno and, beginning in 1979, his young engineer and collaborator, Lanois. Since then, Lanois and Eno have gone on to work together and separately with U2 ó their co-operative labors yielding such hits as "Beautiful Day" ó and Lanois has become a giant among producers on his own. Like Eno, the 54-year-old Quebec-born sonic visionary has also become an accomplished solo artist.

Until now, Lanoisís solo albums have featured his pedal steel and other guitars, an array of sonic treatments, and soft-spoken, poetic lyrics that have positioned him somewhere in among the folk, rock, and textural-music worlds. Belladonna is different. Itís an instrumental outing colored by the sounds and cactus-pocked landscape of the Baja with Lanoisís pedal steel at its core. The 13 tunes mostly conjure visions of quiet open spaces with subdued utopian glee, but on some of the numbers, like "Telco" and "The Deadly Nightshade," clusters of noise creep in. Lanois explains theyíre stand-ins for the mental static heís feeling these days, for the clouds of anger and disappointment that come when he thinks about how Americans have been misled and betrayed by their political leaders.

But he also has a sense that this lush, gorgeous, evocative album may be his masterpiece. "I wanted to make one of those records that people could listen to when Iím gone and say, ĎIím getting a feeling from this and my spirits have been lifted.í If I can pull it off, thatís a major triumph for me. And Iím playing the pedal steel better than I ever have, so perhaps those things have come together for Belladonna."

Lanois says the album is "a return to the values" he first learned working with Eno from 1979 to 1984 on a series of ambient recordings with Harold Budd and others. "It can be an incredible abyss when youíre working with sonics, in that one thing leads to another to another to another. The discipline is to stay within a philosophy. I learned from Brian that itís good to have rules and itís good to step outside of them."

Hence the concerts with Tortoise. Although Lanois has toured before, itís been alone or with a clutch of hired hands. "[Anti- label president] Andy Kaulkin said, ĎWhy donít you tour with Tortoise, because they have a lovely fan base that expects nothing but instrumental music. You can have their fan base and they can have yours.í Itís a commercial decision, but I like what they do and Iíve never done anything like this, so weíre rolling the dice."


Issue Date: September 30 - October 6, 2005
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