Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell with Friends

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell with Friends (8:00 PM)

Emmylou Harris

Rodney Crowell

Sat, February 9, 2013

7:00 pm


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This event is all ages

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Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell with Friends - (Set time: 8:00 PM)
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell with Friends
Emmylou Harris
Emmylou Harris

Already celebrated as a discoverer and interpreter of other artists’ songs, 12-time Grammy Award winner Emmylou Harris has, in the last decade, gained admiration as much for her eloquently straightforward songwriting as for her incomparably expressive singing. On Hard Bargain, her third Nonesuch disc, she offers 11 original songs—three of them co-written with Grammy– and Oscar–winning composer Will Jennings—that touch on the autobiographical while reaching for the universal. She recalls the storied time she spent with her mentor Gram Parsons (“The Road”) and composes a sweet remembrance of the late singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle (“Darlin’ Kate”) and the time they spent together, right up to the end. Harris locates poignancy and fresh meaning in events both historical and personal. On “My Name Is Emmett Till” she recounts a violent, headline-making story from the civil rights era in a heartbreakingly plain-spoken narrative, told from the murdered victim’s perspective; on “Goodnight Old World,” she fashions a bittersweet lullaby to her newly born grandchild, contrasting a grown-up’s world-weariness with a baby’s wide-eyed wonder. “Big Black Dog,” with its loping canine-like rhythms, is also a true tale, about a black lab mix named Bella. Harris, who runs a dog shelter called Bonaparte’s Retreat on her property, rescued Bella from the Nashville Metro pound and provided an especially happy ending to her story: “She goes on the tour bus with me now, along with another one of my rescues. I think of all the years on the road I wasted without a dog. They make it so much more pleasant. I’m making up for lost time now, that’s for sure.”

Few in pop or country music have achieved such honesty or revealed such maturity in their writing. Forty years into her career, Harris shares the hard-earned wisdom that—hopefully if not inevitably—comes with getting older, though she’s never stopped looking ahead. The candor of Harris’s words is matched by a simple, elegantly rendered production from Jay Joyce (Patty Griffin, Jack Ingram, Cage the Elephant), with whom she’d previously recorded a theme for the romantic drama, Nights in Rodanthe. While Harris’s acclaimed 2008 All I Intended to Be was recorded intermittently over a span of three years and featured an all-star cast of musician friends, including Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, and the McGarrigles, Hard Bargain was cut in a mere four weeks last summer at a Nashville studio, with only Harris, Joyce, and multi-instrumentalist Giles Reaves. Joyce gets big results from this strikingly small combo: Harris played acoustic guitars and overdubbed all the harmonies; Joyce layered shimmering electric guitar parts; Reaves—employing piano, pump organ, and synths as well as playing percussion—conjured gorgeous atmospherics, often giving these tracks, as Harris puts it, “a floaty, dreamy quality.”

“It’s such a beautifully realized sound,” says Harris. “We didn’t have the need for anyone else given how versatile Giles and Jay are. We became our own little family in the studio. We cut very simply, with just maybe a click and whatever they wanted to play and me on an acoustic guitar, going for that vocal and that feel, right to the heart of the matter. After we got a track, there were all those lovely brush strokes they were able to add to it later on. I particularly love the guitar part Jay put on ‘My Name Is Emmett Till.’ It’s a simple part but it just breaks my heart whenever I hear it. It’s like a cry from heaven or something. Jay works really fast but he puts so much thought into what he does. I’ve been very lucky to work with so many great producers over the years and now I guess it was time to increase the stable.”

On “The Road,” with its layers of reverb-doused electric guitars and harmony-packed chorus, Harris addresses, more forthrightly than she’s ever done in song, the short, life-altering period when she worked with country-rock pioneer Parsons. She and Joyce agreed this rousing number should open the disc, and its theme of coming to terms with the past sets the tone for much of what follows. Explains Harris, “I think you get to a certain point in your life where you do gaze back over the years and it’s sort of a celebration or a thank-you for the fact that you cross paths with people who change you forever. Certainly Gram did that; I did come down walking in his shoes and trying to carry on for him. So I really just told that story the way I see it in my mind, the brief time we had and how I couldn’t imagine that Gram wouldn’t be around forever. Life goes on and unfolds before you, but those people and those events that change you forever are always with you. It was an important event that determined the trajectory of my life and, more than anything, of my work.”

Throughout the disc, Harris contrasts the comforts of long-time companionship with the rigors, and just maybe the rewards, of a more solitary life. The title of “The Ship on His Arm” was borrowed from a Terry Allen drawing that Guy Clark’s wife had given Harris a copy of, and the lyrics were inspired by the story of Harris’s own parents, whose marriage was tested when her Marine father went missing in action during the Korean War: “I made up a story about a young couple who were separated and finally reunited. It’s a tip of the hat to the experience I had as a child, though I can’t imagine what my mother and father were actually going through. I just saw this extraordinary love. I don’t know what they went through to make it even stronger, but they were incredibly in love for 50 years. That’s had a huge influence on me and this song was a roundabout way of telling a little bit of their story—even though my father never had a tattoo.” She chuckles. “The imagery was just too irresistible.”

“Lonely Girl” and Nobody,” which offer markedly different takes on the single life, both began as melodies without words, while Harris was sketching out songs in her Nashville home months before she went into the studio. “Lonely Girl,” about woman still yearning for someone else even at the end of her life, “started with me noodling around in that open tuning. It kind of wrote itself. Having the melody carried me to the end.” Similarly, “Nobody” —whose subject finds herself ready to face, and embrace, the world on her own—evolved out of a chorus Harris had dreamed up: “Once again, choruses are my friend. I had this machine where I could put those harmonies on and I liked the way they spread out like a horn section.”

With her impeccable ear for a great song, Harris found two cover tunes to complete the album, musically and thematically. The sparsely arranged title track, a song Harris had been coveting for a while, comes from Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith and describes a lover, friend, or even a guardian angel who repeatedly pulls someone back from the brink of falling apart. Says Harris, “I’m just grateful to have discovered the song. It was there for the plucking. Jay really loved it too and then we ended up calling the album Hard Bargain because it just seemed to tie everything together. The people in your life, and the joy of life, will always bring you back no matter what, and I think that’s echoed in every song in a way. I may be stretching things a little bit but if you had to, ‘Hard Bargain’ would sum up this particular song cycle.”

Joyce’s own luminous “Cross Yourself” serves as a hopeful, ethereal album closer, with a subtly spiritual undertone in its spare lyrics; Harris calls it “the perfect ‘dot dot dot’ song—you know, to be continued.”

And that’s perhaps the overarching message of Hard Bargain: The music, like life, will go on.
Rodney Crowell
Rodney Crowell
In 2010, Rodney Crowell took a notion. He called up most of the band that had played with him on his 1988 commercial breakthrough album Diamonds & Dirt and got them together in a recording studio. Here it was, two decades later. Bass player Michael Rhodes, drummer Eddie Bayers and guitarist Steuart Smith had become Nashville session royalty. Crowell had become one of the most admired songwriter/artists in America. But even they don’t often take the opportunity to record like this. In a circle, facing one another and truly hearing one another, with no headphones or glass walls to separate them, they cut live as a band, with the honesty and no-fixes spontaneity of the records that first inspired all of them as teenagers.

Crowell and his old friends laid down a lot of great music in a timeless rocking country vein, but before a full album’s worth of material was finished, other projects intervened. Crowell made the album Kin with his literary confidant, author Mary Karr, and a host of top roots and pop vocalists. Then came Old Yellow Moon with lifelong friend Emmylou Harris, which led to a triumphant tour and a Grammy win for Best Americana Album. But eventually, that unfinished project beckoned, and after the band regrouped and it was all pulled together, Crowell realized he had something special. He’s called it Tarpaper Sky, an allusion to the rickety house with a bad roof in which he spent much of his Houston childhood.

And suddenly here he is – 63 years old – coming off two acclaimed projects, singing with the depth and nuance to which he’s always aspired and writing with his trademark blend of literary precision and plainspoken country soul. Crowell is a multi-Grammy winner, a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the recipient of the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting from the Americana Music Association. His songs have been covered and performed by an eminent group of musicians, including Van Morrison, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Etta James, George Strait, Royksopp, Tim McGraw and Bob Seger. Yet he’s taken his place among America’s greatest songwriters not with laurels and banquets but with excellent new work.

Crowell says the songs on Tarpaper Sky are mostly pastorals – pictures from an imaginary countryside that tell unadorned stories with straightforward language and energetic musicianship. It begins with “Long Journey Home,” whose archetypal folk title speaks to its ageless theme of wanderlust and its uncomplicated melody. Then as “Fever On The Bayou” segues into “Frankie Please,” we realize we’re in for a rich and varied roots experience. The former features accordion and mandolin, evoking The Band playing on a back porch, while Crowell sings a love song to a Louisiana belle. Then it’s twisting rock and roll rhythms and passionate vocals that definitely make us want to get a look at Frankie. It’s under three minutes long, but it worked for Chuck Berry then and it works for Crowell now.

We also find some graceful ballads scattered through the project, including the poignant country waltz “I Wouldn’t Be Me Without You” and the self-explanatory and vulnerable “God, I’m Missing You.” And the artist’s inclination to search his own story for material comes forward on “Jesus Talk To Mama,” where he celebrates the mystery of his mother’s faith, and “The Flyboy & The Kid,” an allusion to his relationship with Guy Clark. Helmed by the production team of Justin Niebank, Steuart Smith, and Dan Knobler, the album is a rich sonic experience as well, with guest vocals from Vince Gill, John Cowan, Ronnie McCoury and Shannon McNally, plus instrumental contributions by Nashville’s finest, including Jerry Douglas, Will Kimbrough, Fats Kaplin and Steve Fishell. The continuity comes from that core of musicians and old friends with whom Crowell made some of his career defining music.

Crowell’s remarkable story was not unknown during the years he achieved fame as a country music radio star, but it took on a vivid, cinematic quality with the publication of his 2011 memoir Chinaberry Sidewalks. There, we learn the details of his Houston childhood, marked by poverty and tumult. His father, volatile though he was, pulled Rodney into country music, taking him to seminal shows and recruiting him to his hillbilly band. Crowell began to write songs in college and moved to Nashville in 1972, where he was drawn to a bohemian community of future legends that included Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.

Crowell’s suspicion that he was born to be a songwriter bore fruit in that fertile ground. Some of his greatest and most beloved songs came early in his Nashville career, including “Til I Gain Control Again,” “I Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This,” “Song For The Life” and “Ashes By Now.” So his reputation as a songwriter grew substantially, even if his own recording career required patience. He released four albums before Diamonds & Dirt fulfilled the commercial promise that so many had seen in him, producing an astonishing five number one singles in succession.

Crowell has conceded he didn’t accept or handle well the fame that came with that radio success. But if his prickly and independent spirit alienated him from some parts of the radio industry, it led him back to the artist’s path. And while some wondered for a time in the late 1990s if Crowell’s best work was behind him, some downtime gave way to a trio of semi-autobiographical albums in the 2000s that redefined his legacy. The Houston Kid, Fate’s Right Hand and The Outsider were uniformly praised as his most revealing and musically complete albums. Crowell believes with these projects he finally hit his stride as a singer and performer. The historians will tell you they were the projects that sealed his elevated place in American music at large.

With that comes freedom, so recent years have seen Crowell pursuing the directions he felt he needed to go, from spontaneous recording sessions with old friends or collaborations with admired colleagues. And if Old Yellow Moon was a historic reunion and Kin was a literary adventure with his prose writing mentor, Tarpaper Sky is that more ordinary and yet blessed thing – an opus of new songs, tracked with a common sensibility and put in a carefully considered sequence. It’s an album, and as we’ve come to expect from Rodney Crowell, a very fine one. It’s the sound of Crowell fusing his considerable experience with the same unbridled passion for American music that drew him to music as a kid and to Nashville and his road to greatness forty years ago.
Venue Information:
9081 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA, 90069

All lineups and times subject to change