EMMYLOU HARRIS & RODNEY CROWELL
PALAIS THEATRE, MELBOURNE – JUNE 25, 2015
It was hardly a surprise to walk away after this superb concert feeling that it was one of the best so far this year. It is not often that we get to see genuine country music legends here in Australia and Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell certainly qualify on that score.
Team one of the world’s best singers with one of country music’s best songwriters (and a handy singer himself) and you already have the makings of a great evening. Add a sublime set list and a crack Nashville backing band, including South Australian guitarist Jedd Hughes, and it would seem impossible to go wrong.
The first three songs set the scene: Gram Parsons’ ‘Return of The Grievous Angel’ and ‘Wheels’ (one of the greatest motorcycle songs ever) as well as Townes Van Zandt’s mighty ‘Pancho and Lefty’ (one of the greatest songs ever, period). Harris sailed through these beautifully.
Had the concert ended then and there I would have been more than happy to have experienced that alone. I am not sure how many dozen times I have seen Harris perform ‘Pancho and Lefty’ but it is something of which I could never become weary.
Later, Crowell joined Harris for another Gram Parsons song ‘Love Hurts’ and their voices meshed perfectly, as you would expect from singers who have worked with each other on and off for more than 40 years.
While these songs came from another era and were placed as if to introduce Harris’s substantial legacy, there were another twenty-plus songs from across the catalogues of both artists.
The Grammy Award winning collaboration Old Yellow Moon, which contained mainly covers, was represented with four songs, while The Traveling Kind, their latest album together and amazingly just their second such collaboration, got plenty of time with five songs in a row and it was well worth it. (Understandably, the band seemed to be most comfortable playing the more recent songs).
Harris shone on ‘Red Dirt Girl’ and ‘Luxury Liner’ and later in the encore that included ‘Old Yellow Moon,’ ‘Even Cowgirls Get The Blues’ and ‘Boulder To Birmingham’. If she has lost any of her vocal power and range it is certainly not evident.
Crowell took the spotlight on ‘Bring It On Home To Memphis,’ ‘I Ain’t Living Long Like This’ (which he recorded way back in 1978) and ‘Stars On The Water,’ from back in 1981, also proving that his voice has weathered time well.
And all of that is without a single song from Harris’s Wrecking Ball, celebrating its 20th anniversary, or Crowell’s own latest acclaimed solo album Tarpaper Sky. I guess expecting more would have been greedy.
As for the venue, while Harris was full of praise and the sound was excellent, one couldn’t help wishing that the show had been somewhere like The Forum where the audience could have been more involved. I can only dream about what this show would be like at the City Winery in Nashville (or The Ryman!). That is a minor gripe.
All in all, this inspired pairing offered an evening that demonstrated that real music and great songs still have a place. In years to come this show might just go down in legend as one of the greats of all time here.
Return of the Grievous Angel
Pancho and Lefty
‘Til I Gain Control Again
If I Needed You
Invitation to the Blues
Red Dirt Girl
The Rock of My Soul
The Traveling Kind
Bring It on Home to Memphis
You Can’t Say We Didn’t Try
The Weight of the World
I Just Wanted to See You So Bad
Dreaming My Dreams With You
Chase the Feeling
Back When We Were Beautiful
Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight
I Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This
Old Yellow Moon
Stars On The Water
Even Cowgirls Get The Blues
Boulder To Birmingham