Gig review – Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell – Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, England
Being one of my very favourite artists I have seen Emmylou Harris perform live many times now, but her current tour with Rodney Crowell really was a special treat. They, together with their 5 piece band, played their hearts out in two separate, long sets; the first a collection of songs from their shared history, and the second from their new album Old Yellow Moon. Their infectious sense of fun and enjoyment at being on stage on this, the first night of their tour, transmitted to the crowd, and it almost felt like intruding on a private, joy-filled, jamming session.
Harris and Crowell are old friends, he having joined her Hot Band way back in 1975 as a rhythm guitarist. And their voices blend together beautifully, but then Emmylou is an absolute magician at wrapping her voice around others, especially male ones, and making harmonies so sweet it is startling. Of course the most famous vocal duets she created were with Gram Parsons, and the evening kicked off with a very special rendition of his Return of the Grievous Angel, followed by more Parsons treats in the shape of Wheels and Luxury Liner. The latter featured some stunning electric guitar picking by Australian Jedd Hughes.
There were also some of my favourite numbers from Emmylou’s own back catalogue including Red Dirt Girl, with its sad story of the unbelievably hard life and early death of a working class girl named Lillian, who dreamt hopelessly of a better life. Covers of the beautiful Susanna Clark song I’ll be your San Antone Rose, a friend whose death last year obviously touched Harris. As did the death in 2010 of Kate McGarrigle, and the simple solo acoustic version of Darlin’ Kate was truly moving. Crowell also contributed some of his own lovely songs including The Rock of My Soul and Earthbound.
Their second set included the Louvin Brothers classic The Angels Rejoiced Last Night, and Leaving Louisiana with its gorgeous pedal steel accompaniment. But it was mainly a show case for their new album, which was clearly a labour of friendship and love. Hanging Up My Heart is a great Hank DeVito cover; Invitation to the Blues an old country shuffle; and Back When We Were Beautiful a hauntingly beautiful song about lost youth and growing old. Harris lovingly recounted how she first heard Crowell sing, at the end of a dodgy batch of demo tapes that had been sent to her, his Blueberry Wine caught her attention, and fully deserves its place on the new record.
This talented group of musicians were clearly having fun as a band, playing country and rock n roll and everything in between. Crowell described Emmylou as having ‘the soul of a poet, the voice of an angel, and heart of a cowgirl.‘ It’s hard to disagree. It was a treasure of an evening, and the first time I have not heard her sing Boulder to Birmingham live (my all time favourite song by anyone). They left us with the lucious Sin City, and such was the quality of the night that there was no room at all for disappointment.