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BBC – Music – Review of Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell

Written by on October 19, 2020

Emmylou Harris’ shimmering, yearning soprano is one of the great voices in music. Long before it is a country song, or a sad song, anything she sings is an Emmylou Harris song.

Yet at the same time, curiously, the Alabama native is a singer whose best moments come in partnership. And on Old Yellow Moon, in that potentially hokiest of country traditions – the boy/girl duet – an old alliance triumphs with charm.

As Harris’ second-most famous singing partner, Rodney Crowell has sometimes suffered by unfair comparison with the man who came before him: Gram Parsons.

Parsons reframed country music through the lens of the 60s counter-culture – and his legacy is most effectively realised on a wonderful tribute album, Return of the Grievous Angel, which may be Harris’ (as co-producer) own finest achievement.

But Crowell is a different thing, a songwriting craftsman with a naturally emotive tenor that beautifully complements that famous soprano.

Nearly 40 years after he joined forces with Emmylou in her 1970s Hot Band – and supported by impeccable contributions from other distinguished veterans of that era, like James Burton, Bill Payne and Hank DeVito – Crowell drives the partnership through a handful of songs that are as sassy and spry as the best of their early years.

And if there’s no getting away from the roots pairing that has outstripped the rest in the 21st century, it should be said that the stomping Harris/Crowell take on Kris Kristofferson’s Chase the Feeling bears comparison with anything from Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.

Still, much of Old Yellow Moon is unashamedly sentimental. Its eighth track, Crowell’s Bluebird Wine, was the song that introduced the pair’s first collaboration in 1975 – and producer Brian Ahern was there on the day, too.

Perhaps someone less familiar at the helm might have muttered a stern word when these old friends began to get maudlin on weepies like Matraca Berg’s Back When We Were Beautiful. But you know what nostalgic reunions are like.

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