Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell in The National Concert Hall, Dublin, on July 19th 2015
With such a rich seam of songs to draw from, it’s scarcely imaginable that a night in the company of Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell wouldn’t live up to expectation. Tonight’s performance in The National Concert Hall brings to a close this leg of ‘The Travelling Kind’ tour before they return stateside once more. It’s their second duet album, following 2013’s Grammy Award-winning ‘Old Yellow Moon’, but even that was far from the first time the two have collaborated over their forty-year friendship.
The room dims and hush descends as Harris and Crowell, backed by a five-piece band, take the dual-vocal opener of Lucinda Williams’ I Just Wanted to See You So Bad. New song Bring It On Home To Memphis’ opening call to “Sweet Lucinda” later in the set seems a nod to the songwriter, kicking off a brief selection from ‘The Travelling Kind’. The blues of The Weight Of The World spills into those of Chase The Feeling from ‘Old Yellow Moon’, Crowell’s slight misstep on the lyrics steered right by Emmylou. Roger Miller’s Invitation To The Blues is “proper barroom shuffle honky-tonk like it used to was”, and Crowell seems to relish the set’s livelier renditions.
The miscellany takes in a wealth of songwriters as well as cuts from Harris and Crowell’s past (“way back when Rodney and I were both brunettes”). ‘Till I Gain Control Again was the song that brought them together – when the final notes are wrung, they turn to each other and bow gently, an acknowledgement of the journey it began. Michael Hulscher switches from keys to accordion for Townes Van Zandt’s If I Needed You, and the breathy sound melts into Steven Fishell’s pedal steel, one man handing the baton to the next. Fishell wrestles Old Yellow Moon from the two singers just as deftly, seamlessly accentuating their soft harmonies, later answering Crowell’s lamenting lines on Just Pleasing You – “One of the greatest country songs ever written in our time”, Harris warmly affirms of the Hank Williams indebted song.
The memory of Gram Parsons is never far away, with nods to both his and Harris’ aching duets and his tenure with two certain bands. It was Parsons who introduced Harris to The Louvin Brothers; Parsons who had the most profound effect on her musical development. The night’s most poignant duet then is one imbued with the weight of a particular collaboration past, as she and Crowell deliver their own take on Love Hurts. It leaps right into the stomping double-time shuffle of The International Submarine Band’s Luxury Liner, a frantic, fleet-fingered guitar solo from Jedd Hughes seeing it out. Crowell takes lead vocal on Return of the Grievous Angel, and Harris signals the beginning of Wheels with a raised arm, anticipating The Flying Burrito Brothers’ classic. These songs are less a saccharine eulogy to Parsons than a celebratory reminder of his legacy.
As the hour draws late, Harris dances at the side of the stage clapping time and the crowd takes the cue, remaining on their feet from the pre-encore ovation. For some strange reason, though, something during Even Cowgirls Get the Blues seems to trigger a mass sit-down from the previously upstanding crowd, beginning at the front of the room and rippling back with a domino effect.
The night ends with one last tender tip of the hat to Gram Parsons and Boulder to Birmingham, Harris’ attempt to come to terms with his tragic, untimely death. On making ‘The Travelling Kind’, she paraphrased Willie Nelson’s statement, “The life I love is making music with my friends.” Harris and Crowell have been more privileged than most in that respect, as have those whose lives their music has enriched.