The connection between country rock trailblazers Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell is deep. Crowell claims it's in the blood. "Emmy ... went down one road and I went down another. But when we finally got together, it was as if no time had passed."
Touring together for the first time since 1977, when Crowell was rhythm guitarist in Harris' legendary Hot Band, the two have just released the authentic and magical LP Old Yellow Moon, a collection of duets that hold deep personal meanings for the pair. Old Yellow Moon examines the intertwining and parallel careers of Harris and Crowell, along with their complex 40-year friendship. The fruits of that friendship will be laid bare when the duo plays Charlotte's Belk Theater on Friday, April 1st.
Harris and Crowell's history includes key contributions to country rock and Americana. First inspired by folk, Harris embraced country through the 1960s' counterculture and rock 'n' roll scenes. Teaming up with inspired and damaged genius Gram Parsons, Harris sang harmony with country rock's Grievous Angel until his untimely death in 1973. Parson's "cosmic American music," a ground-breaking fusion of rock's restless creativity and country's authenticity, has had a profound influence on Harris' eclectic career. She found further inspiration in her next duet partner, Rodney Crowell.
Harris first heard Crowell's rollicking "Blueberry Sky" when she was auditioning tracks for her 1975 country debut. "Blueberry Sky" became the lead track of Harris' Pieces of the Sky LP, and Crowell was offered a spot with Harris' crack backing crew the Hot Band. Leaving the Hot Band in 1977 to pursue a solo career, Crowell became a stellar performer, producer and songwriter, penning material for Johnny Cash, The Grateful Dead and others. Throughout the '70s and '80s, Crowell and Harris followed parallel tracks, but still their careers intertwined. In 1979, Harris recorded Crowell's lonesome cowboy blues "Here We Are" as a duet with George Jones.
Now, "Here We Are" reappears on Old Yellow Moon. Shorn of sentimentality, it's recast as tough, hard-scrabble country. "Blueberry Wine" is also revisited with a jaunty, acoustic guitar-driven arrangement. The verses are revised to reflect an older, wiser take on mortality, but the song is still joyous, an exuberant stand-out on the LP. Elsewhere, Harris and Crowell stick to country contrarian Townes Van Zandt's dictum that there are only two kinds of songs, "the blues and Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah."
The zydeco-flavored shuffle "Hanging up My Heart" and the jaunty two-step "Invitation to the Blues" squarely fit the Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah mold, but even these upbeat numbers carry a whiff of introspection. The LP's most driving cut, "Black Caffeine," is a slinky honky-tonk rocker, but the light-hearted ditty barely masks a manic crash-and-burn sensibility.
Old Yellow Moon leans more heavily on the blues, particularly the stripped-down take on Kris Kristofferson's chilling freight train to addiction, "Chase the Feeling." Still, Harris and Crowell's blues are more measured than melancholy, an acceptance that life, whether well spent or misspent, must end. This is best illustrated on Old Yellow Moon's title cut.
A gentle rumination with accordion accents, Harris and Crowell follow the stars across the sky until all, star field and observers, fade into the night. It's a touching end to a masterful yet effortless collaboration between dear old friends.