Belladonna was described in its initial press release as the natural culmination of his work with Brian Eno in the ‘80s and ‘90s, which is a stretch. Outside of occasional wordless vocals, it’s entirely instrumental, but doesn’t have the electronic coldness and distance of Eno’s ambient work. Rather, Lanois works in combos, usually around a standard rhythm section, then treating the sounds afterwards to capture the mood. There’s still distance, but it’s more evocative of a southwestern landscape in North America—or more specifically, Mexico. A dusty scene, if you will, and Eno’s never been dusty.
It’s his album, so he can describe it any way he likes, but different ears react in different ways. For something simply gorgeous, go to “Telco” and “Flametop Green”. If you’re looking for Eno-type sounds, try “Oaxaca” or “Todos Santos”. “The Deadly Nightshade” has treated guitars that remind us of Cluster, and “Desert Rose” manages to recall “Silver Morning” from the Apollo project, thanks to the similar pedal steel. While not always screaming through the mix, that particular instrument is a main element of many of the songs here. To hear what he can do with an instrument most associated with straight country and certain Neil Young albums, cue up “Carla” or “Panorama”. He even pulls in Calexico mariachi on “Agave”.
As he’d begun to do, the credits on Belladonna are slim, with main co-conspirators Brian Blade and Daryl Johnson listed in bold, and a few other familiar folks added on, like pianist Brad Mehldau, Malcolm Burn, and Bill Dillon. The album was certainly compiled over time, rather than in concentrated sessions, but it holds together as a mood, either at night or while driving for miles on abandoned highways. They’re mostly brief sketches, averaging two to three minutes, but worthy of immersion.
Daniel Lanois Belladonna (2005)—3