Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Album Review: Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, "The Travelling Kind"

If one were to examine a list of all the greats that have contributed to, and indeed built the very foundation of, the Americana genre, that list would most certainly include Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell.  Indeed, it could be reasonably argued, that Harris and Crowell are in the top ten of the most influential Americana artists in its still relatively young history as an acknowledged musical genre.  Which makes it all the more special that they have chosen to collaborate once again for “The Travelling Kind” (Nonesuch).  Released today, this is the second collaborative album for the two and it comes just two years since their first effort together, “Old Yellow Moon.” 

Their history together is well known, with Crowell once performing as a member of Harris’ famous Hot Band. That was some forty years ago.  It’s this history the two have together that makes a project like “The Travelling Kind” and its predecessor special.  In fact, it could be argued that the title track is based somewhat on that friendship and history the two artists share together.  Co-writing seven of the eleven tracks on the album, on can only hope that this collaboration will continue in the years to come.

Among the tracks that the two didn’t write together is an excellent cover of the Rodney Crowell written “No Memories Hanging Round.”  The song was originally a top 20 hit in 1979 for his then-wife Rosanne Cash and Bobby Bare.  The soaring beauty of Harris’ voice, harmonized with that of Crowell give the song a fresh take that stands right alongside the hit version.  The Lucinda Williams penned “I Just Wanted To See You So Bad” is so good and so perfectly performed musically and vocally that it surpasses the outstanding original version.

This album of course is more than just covers of past hits.  It is a deep album exploring many themes and stages of life as only veteran artists can.  “You Can’t Say We Didn’t Try” is a heartbreaking story of love lost, written by two artists who have lived through the tale. “Higher Mountains” is beautifully performed as only Emmylou Harris could deliver, and delves in to facing the unknown of what’s next at the end of a life well lived. The project rounds itself out completely with a couple of songs that are just plain fun, with the rockabilly influenced “Bring It On Home To Memphis” and the Cajun spiced “La Danse de la Joie.”

It is rare when two artists of this caliber get together to work on an excellent, award winning album and still remain steadfast friends.  That happened when Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell created a masterpiece with “Old Yellow Moon.”  It is rarer still, when those same two artists come back together two years later and create another masterpiece that surpasses the previous release.  That has happened with “The Travelling Kind.”  This album is a piece of art, an outstanding collection of stories from two of the greatest and most influential artists of our time.  This is an album of the year candidate, in any year. 

In the meantime, before you go out and pick up "The Travelling Kind", check out this great video courtesy of the Late Show with David Letterman, featuring Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Steve Martin, Amos Lee and Mark O'Connor.

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