Though they began working together nearly 40 years ago, Old Yellow Moon is the first equal billing project between Harris and Crowell; while it’s a rich and warm meeting of old friends, another celebrated country figure looms large. This is a vibrant and alluring collection of old school honky-tonk tearjerkers and saloon bar shuffles that can’t help but bring to mind Emmylou’s early 70s recordings with the late Gram Parsons. Crowell was an integral part of Harris’ post-Parsons Hot Band, and it’s plain to hear that a long-standing chemistry exists between the singers.
Too many country albums by artists of a certain age become interchangeable simply because the backing music sounds so patently phoned in—a pedal steel lick here, an untuned piano line there, send it to get mastered, and call for some coffee. Sometimes this decision is deliberate: to remove any distractions and let the singer’s voice remain solidly up-front. Other times it’s just lazy.
Emmylou Harris & Rodney CrowellOld Yellow Moon(Nonesuch)Rating: 4 out of 5 stars It might have seemed a risky move for rhythm guitarist/songwriter Rodney Crowell to leave the comfort of Emmylou Harris’ terrific Hot Band back in 1977. In Harris he had a near perfect vocal vehicle for now classic tunes such as “Ain’t Living Long Like This” and “Till I Gain Control Again.” But the gamble ultimately paid off with Crowell becoming a successful solo crossover country/roots artist who now returns to share the marquee with his old boss… after a 36 year absence. From Gram Parsons to Linda Ronstadt and Mark Knopfler, Harris has historically thrived with duet partners.
On “Hanging Up My Heart” and Roger Miller’s vintage “Invitation To The Blues,” Old Yellow Moon’s opening tracks, Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris seem to embrace a randy hard-country throwdown, tinged with Texas shuffles and twin fiddles. But that’s hardly the point. Their duet project—the first for the man who became the Emmylou Harris to Harris’ Gram Parsons on her solo debut, Pieces of the Sky—is certainly classic country, but its greater truth emerges as Harris’ brooding take on Patti Scialfa’s “Spanish Dancer” presages a contemplative journey through lives lived to the hilt, addictions and their costs and recognition of one’s ultimate place on the horizon.
This was a long time coming; given its relaxed execution, one wonders what took so long. Old Yellow Moon is an album of duets between Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. He was a rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist in her Hot Band in the mid-'70s. After he left, he continued contributing songs to her recordings for nearly two decades.
Collaboration has, of course, always been central to Emmylou Harris’s illustrious career. From the first, now legendary, Gram Parsons duets through her work with Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton as one third of Trio to her partnership with Daniel Lanois on the career-redefining Wrecking Ball, Harris has sought out (and been sought out by) a highly diverse range of musical partners. This has allowed Harris to continue to raise harmony singing to new heights of artistic genius with cameos on records by artists including Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, John Prine, Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith, Conor Oberst, Patty Griffin, the McGarrigles and many, many more.
Smiles and tears from country friends reunited. Ninian Dunnett 2013 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.
They first met in 1974, and later he joined her legendary Hot Band as guitarist and harmony singer. Although Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell today celebrate long, successful careers, they always wanted to record together, and nearly 40 years on comes Old Yellow Moon. The project gave them the opportunity to record – and in a couple of cases revisit – songs they meant to cut along the way but never got around to.