For his fourth solo effort, Daniel Lanois abandons songs about Québecois tobacco farmers and dealings with devils and returns to his first love: evocative, atmospheric instrumentals. A self-described "Canadian kid included in Eno's Great Ambient Music Chapter," he recalls his roots, which, of course, include producing U2 and Peter Gabriel and made him a multizillionaire. Atop a bedrock formed by bassist Daryl Johnson and drummer Brian Blade, Lanois roams wild with his pedal steel guitar -- the same secret weapon he used to such mesmerizing effect on his soundtrack to the film Sling Blade and on Brian Eno's spare-faring Apollo album. Reminiscent of long, languid road trips and postcards from lonely pitstops in the desert, Belladonna's serpentine songs are too jazzy, too instrumentally busy and sophisticated to be labeled truly ambient. Melodic passages suggest narratives, not just moods, and Lanois' patented production work -- which coats each note in layers of sweet, shimmering reverb -- lends simple little dreamscapes like "Oaxaca" and "The Deadly Nightshade" a graceful complexity. As his pedal steel twangs and twists, the sunset throws pink-orange arrows through a handblown tequila bottle. And then the winds pick up during the closing "Todos Santos," a darkened meditation on the menace of the coming night, perhaps a reminder that just beneath the desert's barren beauty, there's a scorpion or two.
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