The Deadly Nightshade
Daniel Lanois has spent the majority of the career perfecting the organic but densely textured production style that reanimated folk and rock styles in the '80s and '90s. Though Lanois’ first three solo albums are paragons of his production philosophy, 2008’s Belladonna is a minimalist masterpiece. An album of instrumentals on which Lanois plays only pedal steel—backed by jazz specialists Brad Mehldau on piano and Brian Blade on drums—Belladonna reconnects him to the start of his career, when he contributed sweet-yet-ghostly pedal steel motifs to Brian Eno’s haunting ambient soundscapes. In one sense, this album is a sequel to Lanois and Eno’s 1983 collaboration Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, although the thematic touchstone here is Mexico rather than the moon. Both “Oaxaca” and “Agave” overtly reference the mariachi tradition, while “Frozen” is a surprisingly lovely hybrid of classic country and Jamaican dub. “Carla,” “Deadly Nightshade,” and “Panorama” suggest that this master of layered sound is at his best when his music is stripped of everything but its essence.