For the inaugural broadcast of Music City Roots from Liberty Hall in Franklin, Tenn., the show couldn't have chosen two better headliners than Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. The duo has been touring behind their collaborative Old Yellow Moon project and are currently in the studio working on its follow-up. Still, they took leave to gift the sold-out audience with two sets of sweet and true country music last night at the Factory.
Harris and Crowell began the evening by applying their effortless harmonies to "Wheels" and letting their band shine a little right off the bat as guitarist Jedd Hughes and keyboardist Chris Tuttle each took finely tuned solo runs. Keeping with classics from Emmylou's past, "Pancho & Lefty" drew the second slot with Rodney taking the lead on his sweet country ballad "Till I Gain Control Again," a tune they have both recorded. After, Emmy remarked that the first time she heard that tune in 1975, she knew she was going to stick with him. Crowell shot back with, "That's because you've never been married to me."
Following a good chuckle, the crowd responded enthusiastically to the opening strains of "If I Needed You." While the Townes Van Zandt's original recording and Lyle Lovett's 1998 version are both fairly flawless, this is a song that Emmy was born to sing, her plaintive voice making each performance a newly definitive rendering. In terms of hitting high marks, Harris and Crowell's throw down of "Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight" was about as pure as country music gets. To close the first set, the pair circled back to Old Yellow Moon for the captivating "Dreaming My Dreams."
To open the second half of the show, the two legends leaned on the purposely plodding "Love Hurts," a staple of Emmy's set since the 1970s. For anyone only familiar with Nazareth's hard-edged version, the miracle of this song is that, when you take the energy out, all that's left is the emotion which Hughes helped accentuate with a thoughtful guitar solo. Jumping forward a few decades and into the red dirt portion of the show, Harris made her way through "Red Dirt Girl" and Crowell offered "The Rock of My Soul." Those cuts are both contemporary storytelling classics, each drawing a perfect portrait of its respective artist.
Jumping even further forward, Emmylou reprised "Long Time Girl Gone By" from Crowell's 2012 collaboration with poet Mary Karr. Rodney kept things in the new millennium for "I Know Love Is All I Need" from The Houston Kid. On a night of touching tunes, this one stands out as a definite highlight. The 1,000-strong crowd was completely silent, save a baby crying in the back of the room. Then, to end as they began, Harris and Crowell let their harmonies work all kinds of wonders on "Old Yellow Moon."
While the evening wasn't without some technical difficulties, Music City Roots has found a fine new home in Liberty Hall. Though the space is bigger, the feel is just as down-home and cozy as was the Loveless Barn. And the show couldn't have had more pitch-perfect first guests than Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell.