Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Hammersmith Apollo (London, UK May 9th 2013)
As I walked in to the venue, I happened to spot what looked like a set list perched upon the sound desk and asked if I might take a photograph of it – much to my delight the sound engineer was happy to indulge me and I clicked away! Finding my seat, I read the list and almost couldn’t believe how many songs were printed on it – twenty-eight titles graced the page – wow! Surely they weren’t going to play them all tonight? Reader, they did and what’s more added in a few extras too!
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell first met more than forty years ago and he became the mainstay of her ‘Hot Band’ playing guitar, singing harmony and writing songs. They reunited recently and released a duet album OLD YELLOW MOON featuring a selection of country covers as well as a few songs written by Crowell. I have to confess that the album, for me, is somewhat of a mixed bag; standouts are Matraca Berg’s Back When We Were Beautiful and Patti Scialfa’s Spanish Dancer both of which were beautifully interpreted tonight.
The first of tonight’s two sets looked back at their past (and sometimes shared) histories whereas the second set focused on the new album. Accompanied by a well-honed five-piece band, they put on a show that had a few people dancing in the aisles especially when they performed Bluebird Wine. It was the first of Crowell’s songs that Harris ever heard; she included it on her debut solo album and they’ve reworked it for their new one.
Whilst neither of the two lead protagonists said a great deal between songs, it was clear that they were enjoying their reunion and Harris felt relaxed enough to poke fun at herself for forgetting that they were going to have an interval. She joked that at her age (mid 60’s) her memory sometimes let her down but this only endeared her even more to her demographic.
When Harris returned for the second set, she did so alone and paid tribute to her dearly departed friend, Kate McGarrigle, by singing her tender farewell letter, Darlin’ Kate. Crowell then joined her for the Louvin Brothers’ Angels Rejoice and much to my delight they then sang a song which they hadn’t previously performed ‘in front of a bunch of people’ Long Time Girl Gone By from KIN, Crowell’s collaboration with author Mary Karr. Harris’ reading of the song on the album received much acclaim so it was wonderful to hear it sung first hand.
I’ve seen Harris (and Crowell) a number of times in live performance and she never fails to mention the man with whom she forged a legendary musical partnership, the late county-rock pioneer Gram Parsons. Although not referring to Parsons by name tonight, his presence was nevertheless felt through the opening song Return of the Grievous Angel and closing encore Sin City with a couple of others tossed in to the mix in between – Wheels and Luxury Liner which featured a blistering solo by Australian guitarist Jedd Hughes on his red Stratocaster!
Thirty-one songs, over two and a half hours in a venue with an excellent sound mix, in front of a near capacity crowd – what’s not to like? Jela Webb
Emmylou Harris – vocals/acoustic guitar
Rodney Crowell – vocals/acoustic guitar
Steve Fishell – pedal steel
Jedd Hughes – lead guitar
Chris Tuttle – keyboards/accordion
Byron House – bass
Gerry Roe – drums