Old soldiers Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris return to action
Rodney Crowell didn’t get lucky when he first met Emmylou Harris 40 years ago. But there are, as the singer-songwriter points out, “layers of luck”.
“You know, the truth about me and Emmy is that we were kids together back there in our 20s, and I had romantic designs on her,” he admits, calling the Georgia Straight from his porch in Tennessee. “Actually, we laugh now, and say, you know, we never got involved in that way and that’s why we can work together now. So we did do something smart.”
Many things, as it happens. In 1975, Harris recorded “Bluebird Wine”, the first of many Crowell songs. Shortly after, he was handling guitar and vocals in her fabled Hot Band. They’ve partnered on and off ever since, meaning that the only real surprise with Old Yellow Moon—a sparkling full-length released by the pair earlier this year—is that it’s their first album of duets.
“We wanted it to be, like, ‘Hey, these are two people who have known each other for a long time,’ ” Crowell explains. “So instead of presenting ourselves as this romantic team, why don’t we yoke up as friends and talk about real life as a discussion at the kitchen table? ’Cause, God, you know, we’ve both been married how many times, and friends have died—the whole thing. The stuff that’s real.”
Given the personnel onboard, including old Hot Band legends like James Burton, Emory Gordy Jr., and Glen D. Hardin, Old Yellow Moon has the feel of a career milestone blossoming from a casual get-together. There’s a conceptual coup de grace (or “a full circle thing”) with Crowell’s updated take on “Bluebird Wine”—“You can blame Ms. Harris for that,” he says—while opening track, “Hanging Up My Heart”, comes courtesy of Hank DeVito, yet another Hot Band alumnus.
Hitting the road together, meanwhile, meant going all the way back to everybody’s origins. “Oh, yeah, yeah, we cover Emmy’s career prior to the Hot Band, prior to me entering her life. We do some of the Gram Parsons stuff that she did, which is part of her musical legacy,” he says. “And we do some stuff that we did together back when we were just sitting around on her living-room floor.”
Absent from the set, meanwhile, is anything from Diamonds and Dirt, which yielded an incredible five number-one singles for the solo Crowell in the late ’80s. “I felt like a phony,” he confesses, about his years in the spotlight. “So I think my attitude going around the country-music scene was pretty obvious to the gatekeepers, that, ‘Hey, this guy’s a malcontent.’ ” Crowell got what he wanted in the end—“and they got rid of me,” he hoots—while Old Yellow Moon is marked by the kind of musical and emotional authenticity that its two authors have pursued for four decades.
“There’s a lot more of her in there,” Crowell answers, when asked to consider the difference between Harris now and Harris then. “That beautiful body has been lived in. That beautiful voice has been lived in. She’s an old soldier, you know? She’s got scars,” he says. “And it’s not like we’re on an ego trip or something—but speaking of old soldiers, hey, we’ve been doing this for 40 years and we’re still doing it pretty damn good. Enough said.”