Published on February 2nd, 2014 | by Jon Santiago0
Review: Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell Conjure Up a Portable Opry
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell
North Charleston Performing Arts Center
Take a couple hard-working country music legends, add in a dynamite backing band made up of veteran pros and got-to-hear-‘em-to believe-‘em whiz kids, and you’ve got the makings of a concert you’d want to take home on a DVD.
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell resumed their North American tour on Friday night (Jan. 31) with a two-hour long show at the Performing Arts Center. The longtime collaborators had taken a little time off the road — just enough time, in fact, to pick up a 2014 “Best Americana Album” Grammy for their duet album Old Yellow Moon.
And while Friday’s performance arrived complete with post Grammy-winning glow, it was all about the music. No glitzy light effects. No over-wrought musical arrangements. Not even so much as a “Ladies and gentlemen, will you please welcome…” intro. Nope. The house lights went down. The stage lights came up a fraction. Harris stepped onto the stage, slung her guitar on, and began singing “Hickory Wind.” As she sang, one by one, her band mates took their places and joined in, as if everyone had just ambled in for a band rehearsal.
The show’s opening numbers may have been marred just a bit by audio problems (Harris got a laugh with her comment, “You know, we really do have sound. We are professionals.”), but by the time Harris and Crowell launched into Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty,” they’d put that firmly behind them.
Harris and Crowell have naturally complementary singing voices, and years of backing one another shine through whenever they’re at the mics together.
The evening’s set list, leaning toward the ballad end of the spectrum where Harris’ vocals shine most brightly, comprised a who’s who of American songwriters. Kris Kristofferson’s “Chase the Feeling,” Hank DeVito’s “Hanging Up My Heart,” Roger Miller’s “Invitation to the Blues,” and Allen Reynolds’ “Dreaming My Dreams,” all came along to join Crowell classics like the haunting “’Til I Gain Control Again” and “Ashes by Now.”
By the time “Luxury Liner” rolled around, the band were ready to show off some. This rollicking tune featured blistering fretwork by 31-year-old Australian guitarist Jedd Hughes on his red Telecaster, trading licks with pedal steel maestro Steve Fishell. Another session veteran, Byron House on electric bass and upright bass, balanced out young bloods Chris Tuttle on keyboards and accordion and Gerry Rose on drums. Harris has always had a gift for picking the right bandmates, and this touring band is no exception.
Another barn-stormer, Crowell’s “Ain’t Living Long Like This,” transformed the stage into an Austin dive bar on a Saturday night with Emmylou dancing around while Chris Tuttle killed it on keys and Hughes right there with him.
But the evening offered moments of stunning beauty as well. “Long Time Girl” with its wistful, understated arrangement and the heartbreaking loveliness of Matraca Berg’s “Back When We Were Beautiful” stood out.
Harris and Crowell, longtime bandmates, friends, and collaborators, may very well be at the top of their game these days. And while we don’t often mention such things in a concert review, they’ve got a show coming up at the Orange Peel in Asheville this week. If you missed the PAC show, you’ll be doing yourself a favor to get behind the wheel and catch these folks doing some of the best work of their careers. No fooling.
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