That’s the ticket
Who: Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell
When: 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 30
Where: Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts
Tickets: $96 general, $39.50 students; www.mondaviarts.org, 530-754-2787
Forty years into their careers, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell have never stopped looking ahead. At 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 30, the duo propels forward with a concert at the Mondavi Center’s Jackson Hall featuring songs from their recent album “Old Yellow Moon.”
Twelve-time Grammy winner Emmylou Harris has traveled an artistic path that has led her from carrying the torch of “cosmic American music” to country-rock, the bluegrass revival and folk music. Known for her crystalline pipes, and her gift for phrasing, she has established a body of work that has remained consistently daring.
She began to seriously study music at the University of North Carolina, but quit school to pursue music full time. Her breakthrough came when she collaborated with Gram Parsons in the early 1970s, after which she moved to Los Angeles to work on her first major-label solo debut, “Pieces of the Sky,” a collection of covers varying from the Beatles to Merle Haggard.
Before releasing “Blue Kentucky Girl” and “Roses in the Snow,” two albums representing her excursion into the country sound and acoustic bluegrass, Harris established a new group of sidemen, the Hot Band. The Hot Band featured Elvis Presley backers James Burton and Glen D. Hardin as well as a budding young guitarist and songwriter named Rodney Crowell, who joined in 1975.
Singing together with Crowell, Harris recalled, “Immediately with Rodney, that chemistry and energy was there.” The feeling was mutual, and as Crowell told NPR, “It was like we were on a speeding bus, Emmy and I grabbed hold of the back, flying in the breeze. It was fun; Emmy and I got to play guitars and sing, but really it was like sitting in a Ferrari.”
Crowell quickly became one of the band’s primary songwriters, but left in 1977 and formed his own group, the Cherry Bombs. In 1978, he released his first album “Ain’t Living Long Like This,” and surprisingly, given his growing prominence as a songwriter, his first major hits, “Elvira” and “(Now and Then, There’s) A Fool Such as I” were both covers.
However, Crowell’s songwriting took flight when his “Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” hit No. 1 for the Oak Ridge Boys in 1980. Meanwhile, Crowell helped revolutionize country music with the records he produced for Rosanne Cash, and in 1989, his “After All This Time” won a Grammy for Best Country Song.
“Old Yellow Moon, ” released in February, is Crowell and Harris’ first official collaboration since their Hot Band days. The album features four of Crowell’s songs including a new take on “Bluebird Wine,” as well as three songs from former Hot Band member Hank DeVito.
Both Harris and Crowell are happy to harmonize together again, as Crowell said, “You get us together, in the right key, with the right melody, and we can make it sizzle.” They have accepted changes in their voices as for the better, and Harris said in a NPR interview, “I have really shaken hands with where my voice is right now. If I really love a song, nothing is going to get in my way.”
In “Old Yellow Moon,” Harris and Crowell sing to their age, celebrating getting older and sharing stories of heartbreak, as in “Open Season on My Heart.” The sad songs have a reflective quality, and Crowell told NPR, “I can engage melancholy as if it were a kind of reverie, because inside of that blue tonality, that’s where those kinds of songs come from.”
The duo celebrates the beauty in sorrow. “I love the sad songs, they make me so happy,” Harris said.
Tickets start at $96 general and $39.50 for students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787.