Soul Mining: A Musical Life

January 01, 1970

(Faber & Faber)




Daniel Lanois is a producer that some folks love to hate. On
the one hand, he works hard for artists he loves, knows how to help them sell
records without making overt commercial moves, and keeps an eye on the future
while maintaining respect for the past. On the other hand, as a musician
himself, he’s quick to assign himself to the band instead of staying behind the
board, and his style can be heavyhanded. Experimental and atmospheric, his work
is utterly distinctive, with equal attention given to both songs and sounds.
Not everyone is a fan of his approach, but it’s immediately recognizable and
often meshes with an artist’s vision perfectly.


Given his résumé, which includes landmark records by Bob
Dylan, U2, Peter Gabriel, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Robbie Robertson and
the Neville Brothers, not to mention his own acclaimed solo work, his name
would be high on the list of music industry lifers who could come up with an
interesting book. Thus we have Soul
, an account of Lanois’ diverse career that’s part memoir and part
inspirational tome. Eschewing a chronological narrative, Lanois instead picks
moments from his life and zeroes in with a microscope, finding the importance in
the small details of his methods. He often combines a tale from his child- or
young manhood, when he was splitting his time between the stages in Canadian
bars and the professional studio he and his brother built in their mother’s
basement, with a chronicle of working on a record with a major artist. You
won’t get the full story start-to-finish, though he’ll fill in enough details
so you know where the project started and where it ended up. (One significant
exception: Dylan’s Time Out of Mind,
a record obviously important to both legend and producer.) But you’ll get
enough to understand the thinking behind what Lanois brings to the project, and
his mental processes as he decides the best way to follow a musician’s vision while
pushing his/her artistic envelope.


One of the consistent themes running through the book is the
desire to combine the best of the past with the experimentation of the future. While
Lanois often laments the loss of working methods from the analog era, he’s no
purist. He’s perfectly willing to change the game in order to challenge both
himself and his client – a state of mind learned from his early partnership
with noted futurist Brian Eno. The same holds true of his style as a memoirist
– given the option of a straight narrative or a seemingly (but not truly) random
approach that allows him to hold forth on a variety of production and
music-related topics, he chooses the latter, stimulating the reader as he does
his clients. In other words, Lanois carries the same artistic philosophy from
his production work into his book. Soul
may well frustrate those looking for an uncomplicated look at Daniel
Lanois’ life, but give yourself over to its rhythms and you’ll find it an
enriching experience.


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