* * * 1/2 EMMYLOU HARRIS "Cowgirl's Prayer" Asylum

After 18 years, Harris has a new label and a new album that finds her very near peak form, and once again pushing the envelope of her artistry.

Foremost is her singing. She's exploiting more of her dusky lower register, providing greater contrast to her signature angelic high notes. She's recorded her first spoken-word tune ("Jerusalem Tomorrow"), which works remarkably well, and Jesse Winchester's "Thanks to You" allows her a successful detour into gospel-blues.

Her vocal commitment never flags, even in the face of a rare, hackneyed lyric ("A Ways to Go").

Harris' biggest strength remains her song selection, and this strong collection focuses mainly on the many facets of faith: the struggle to find it, the ease with which it can be lost, the peace of mind when it is secure. An exceptionally vibrant, thoughtful outing.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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