A rich ‘Kind’ of har­mony

Los Angeles Times - - POP MUSIC - RAN­DALL ROBERTS POP MU­SIC CRITIC The orig­i­nal rock ’n’ roll gen­der-ben­der, Lit­tle Richard is such an in­te­gral part

Em­my­lou Har­risand Rodney Crow­ell

“The Trav­el­ing Kind”

(None­such)

Few can har­mo­nize with as much grace as Har­ris, whose for­ma­tive work with Gram Par­sons start­ing in the early ’70s con­tin­ues to in­flu­ence new gen­er­a­tions of coun­try artists. And few can lyri­cize with as much grace as Crow­ell, whose songs over roughly the same pe­riod con­tinue to res­onate. On their sec­ond al­bum of duets af­ter decades of friend­ship, that fa­mil­iar­ity breeds a level of hard-won hon­esty.

“We don’t all die young to save our spark / From the rav­ages of time,” they sing in unisonto open. “But the first and last to leave their mark / Be­come the trav­el­ing kind.” Far from rav­aged, Crow­ell and Har­ris move with pa­tience through the midtempo med­i­ta­tion on time­less art. As Crow­ell strums chords, man­dolin and gut­stringed gui­tar of­fer ac­cents. Pro­duced with typ­i­cally ad­mirable re­straint by Joe Henry, “The Trav­el­ing Kind” fea­tures songs mostly writ­ten or co-writ­ten by the pair — their des­per­ate take on Lucin­daWil­liams’ “I Just Wanted to See You So Bad” be­ing an ex­cel­lent ex­cep­tion.

“Sweet Lucinda” may or may not be about Wil­liams, who lives in Los An­ge­les, but it’s def­i­nitely an in­dict­ment of Los An­ge­les liv­ing. “Sweet Lucinda, look out your win­dow,” im­plores Crow­ell, “L.A. free­way just like the man said / Peo­ple honkin’ their horns / Pointin’ guns at your head.” The two show unity in the cho­rus, evenif its rea­son­ing is mis­guided: “Bring it on home to Mem­phis.”

Lit­tle Richard

“Di­rectly From My Heart: The Best of the Spe­cialty& Vee-JayYears”

(Con­cord Mu­sic Group). of the Amer­i­can pop land­scape that it’s easy to take for granted his cul­tural im­port. Dur­ing his peak fame in the 1950s while his first­gen­er­a­tion peers Elvis Pres­ley, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis served as daugh­ter-threat­en­ing fod­der, Lit­tle Richard ex­uded a rev­o­lu­tion­ary “flam­boy­ance” that up­ended ex­pec­ta­tions dur­ing the sex­u­ally re­pressed ’50s. De­spite cries of out­rage from con­ser­va­tives, much of America ul­ti­mately cel­e­brated Lit­tle Richard’s free­dom and ac­cepted the prover­bial ele­phant inthe room.

The artist was a vir­tual also-ran when he hooked up with Los An­ge­les’ Spe­cialty Records and its A&R man, Bumps Blackwell, in the mid-1950s. But af­ter one rev­e­la­tory day in a New Or­leans stu­dio, the artist hit upon the chaotic, beat-heavy style that would come to de­fine him. The hits are all within this three-CD set, but the­lesser-known­miss­esand B-sides like “Cherry Red” are the real rev­e­la­tion. This stuff re­mains alive, strange and vi­sion­ary, driven by the hard proto-funk drum­ming of the un­sung in­flu­encer Charles Con­nor and Lee Allen’s ridicu­lously mem­o­rable tenor sax­o­phone so­los. Want to hear a masterful per­for­mance? Note the drum work on “Cross Over.” Vin­tage? Def­i­nitely, but as ev­i­denced here, cru­cial.

Rick Di­a­mond Getty Im­ages

SINGING duo Em­my­lou Har­ris, Rodney Crow­ell.

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