A rich ‘Kind’ of harmony
Emmylou Harrisand Rodney Crowell
“The Traveling Kind”
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.”
“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.
SINGING duo Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell.