Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell: Old Yellow Moon

A long-delayed collaboration between two roots music greats proves perfectly pleasant but may leave the listener wishing for a little more spark and fire.

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell

Old Yellow Moon

US Release: 2013-02-26
UK Release: 2013-03-04
Label: Nonesuch

Collaboration has, of course, always been central to Emmylou Harris’s illustrious career. From the first, now legendary, Gram Parsons duets through her work with Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton as one third of Trio to her partnership with Daniel Lanois on the career-redefining Wrecking Ball, Harris has sought out (and been sought out by) a highly diverse range of musical partners. This has allowed Harris to continue to raise harmony singing to new heights of artistic genius with cameos on records by artists including Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, John Prine, Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith, Conor Oberst, Patty Griffin, the McGarrigles and many, many more. The best of these collaborations have served an important function for Harris, allowing her to explore all kinds of areas of the country-folk-rock palette and thereby keep her own particular brand of “cosmic American music” fresh, vital and surprising.

Old Yellow Moon, Harris’s latest collaborative project, has been a long while in the pipeline, it seems. Harris and Rodney Crowell first linked up in 1975, when she recruited him as guitarist and harmony singer in the Hot Band. Harris was immediately drawn to Crowell’s songwriting and chose to open her first solo album with a composition by her new bandmate: “Bluebird Wine,” which turns out to be one of the four Crowell-composed tracks that Old Yellow Moon revisits.

Overseen by Brian Ahern, Harris’s ex-husband and producer of her first eleven solo albums (and with whom she reunited -- professionally, at least -- on 2008’s All I Intended To Be), the new record is determinedly and deliberately retrograde in its stylistic approach, looking back affectionately on the country-rock blend that Harris and Crowell -- alongside Parsons, Ronstadt, The Flying Burrito Brothers and others -- pioneered in the 1970s. Accentuating the warmly nostalgic mood is the presence of other Harris accompanists, many of whom haven’t performed with her in many years: Vince Gill, Emory Gordy, Stuart Duncan Glen D. Hardin, and Mickey Raphael all pitch in at various points. The results prove perfectly pleasant but aren’t destined to rank as one of Harris or Crowell’s most essential offerings.

The problem, frankly, is mediocre material. Songs such as Kris Kristofferson’s “Chase The Feeling” and Crowell’s “Here We Are” and “Bull Rider” are blandly undistinguished, and the straightforward, tasteful treatments that they receive here don’t compensate for their lyrical shortcomings in a way that, say, Lanois’s more textured, atmospheric production might. Despite the professionalism of the playing, the album feels casually assembled, as if Crowell and Harris had picked the songs randomly, without too much thought for quality control.

On the stronger tracks, though, both artists deliver. Hank DeVito’s “Hanging Up My Heart” opens the album with a snappy, infectious twang, with Vince Gill helping Harris and Crowell out on the harmonies. Roger Miller’s “Invitation to the Blues” has slinky appeal, and “Open Season on my Heart” is Crowell’s most committed and engaging moment. Harris wraps a reverent hush around Matraca Berg’s wistful “Back When We Were Beautiful” and does the same on an absolutely exquisite reading of Patti Scialfa’s “Spanish Dancer” that’s augmented by lovely guitar work, mandolin, and accordion. (Next suggested collaboration: Harris and Scialfa.) And the title track -- composed by DeVito and Lynn Langham -- brings the album to a graceful and elegant close.

Modest, low-key, and unassuming, Old Yellow Moon is finally too conventional a record to rank as a major addition to either Harris or Crowell’s discographies. More solid than special, the record has undeniably lovely moments. But given the artists’ long history together, the listener may be forgiven for expecting an album that’s more consistently dynamic and distinctive than this.


This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.