TWO OF A KIND

Em­my­lou Har­ris and Rodney Crow­ell were a fine song­writ­ing match from day one, but they’re even bet­ter for the miles trav­elled.

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - LIVE & LOUD - NOEL MEN­GEL

In coun­try mu­sic, duet singing is a fine tra­di­tion. Johnny Cash and June Carter, Ge­orge Jones and Tammy Wynette, Em­my­lou Har­ris and Gram Par­sons.

It was Par­sons who dis­cov­ered Har­ris and brought her into his band and the stu­dio. He taught her about coun­try mu­sic, a form that had not pre­vi­ously in­ter­ested her.

“I was lis­ten­ing to the Lou­vin Broth­ers and all this fan­tas­tic mu­sic that I had turned my nose up at be­fore,’’ Har­ris has said of that ex­pe­ri­ence. “Sud­denly I heard the soul­ful­ness of Ge­orge Jones. It was al­most like the Red Sea part­ing, it was that huge for me.’’

Par­sons died in 1973 but he had started a fire in his singing part­ner. Har­ris launched her ma­jor-la­bel ca­reer with the 1975 clas­sic Pieces Of The Sky. It con­tained songs by Merle Hag­gard, the Lou­vins, Dolly Par­ton, John Len­non and Paul Mc­Cart­ney. Among an al­bum of song­writ­ing di­a­monds picked from the top shelf, there was one tune by a 24-year-old song­writer, gui­tarist and singer who played in her band, Rodney Crow­ell.

Both would go on to have ma­jor ca­reers, fly­ing the flag for clas­sic coun­try song­writ­ing and sto­ry­telling as com­mer­cial coun­try grew glossier, more pro­duced and more dis­tant from the mu­sic’s ru­ral roots.

Now, Har­ris and Crow­ell are singing to­gether again and coun­try mu­sic has a duet team truly wor­thy of the tra­di­tion. Their 2013 set Old Yel­low Moon won a Grammy for best Amer­i­cana al­bum. New al­bum The Trav­el­ing Kind is even bet­ter than the first, a pure coun­try gem.

What took them so long to get back to­gether?

“We first met in Wash­ing­ton DC in 1974 and clicked im­me­di­ately; she was like my long-lost sis­ter,’’ says Crow­ell.

“For a lot of years we were busy do­ing our own thing but when we came back to­gether it was like no time had passed. To be able to sing and col­lab­o­rate with her again, I feel like the hand­some prince.’’

Har­ris has recorded many Crow­ell songs but some­thing spe­cial oc­curs when they write and sing to­gether.

The al­bum in­cludes six new songs, a new ver­sion of Crow­ell’s No Mem­o­ries Hang­ing ’Round and a cover of Lucinda Wil­liams’ I Just Wanted To See You So Bad.

Per­haps best of all is Higher Moun­tains, a song ad­dress­ing a loved one who has died.

“I started that song 18 years ago when my mother was a widow. I had the first two verses and a part of the cho­rus but could never get any fur­ther with it, so it lay fal­low all these years,” Crow­ell says.

“When I started work­ing with Emmy again, her mother was near the end of her life. It was Emmy who came in with the nar­ra­tive that helped me fin­ish the song.’’

Crow­ell’s ac­claimed 2010 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Chin­aberry Side­walks, shows he can de­vote him­self to long-form sto­ry­telling just as well as he does in a three-minute song.

The mem­oir fo­cuses on his hard­scrab­ble early years in Texas and his par­ents’ volatile but lov­ing re­la­tion­ship, and since it was pub­lished, some peo­ple have told him they were sorry to hear he had such a tough child­hood.

“I say, ‘Oh no, it was per­fect; I wouldn’t change a thing.’ It’s just that my par­ents were colour­ful and crazy. Love­able and beau­ti­ful peo­ple, but they were cre­ative and out-there.’’

Em­my­lou Har­ris and Rodney Crow­ell can duet with the best of coun­try’s greats.

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