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
Rodney Crowell has been doing this for a while. In fact, his career has been so long and varied
that you have to specify exactly which this you’re talking about. There’s the record-making,
which dates back to 1978 (when he released Ain’t Living Long L ike This), peaked commercially
a decade later (with Diamon ds & Dirt, which yielded five number-one country hits), and has only
grown in sophistication and power in recent years. There’s the fiercely lyrical and personal
songwriting, which has attracted the attention of everyone from Bob Seger (who famously
covered “Shame On the Moon”) to Keith Urban (who had a number-one hit with “Making
Memories of Us”). And then there’s the autobiographical writing, which extends beyond the
music world to a memoir, Chinabe rry Sidewalks, which was published in 2011.
Now there’s a new albu m, Close Ties, on which Crowell both demonstrates his strengths as a
songwriter and illustrates how he has learned to balance personal recollection, literary
sophistication, and his profound musical reach. It’s at once his most intimate record and his
most accessible, the product of years of understanding the ways songs can enter—and be
entered by—life. “It’s a loose concept album, you could say,” Crowell says. “And the concept is
related to how you tell stories about yourself. Having a few years ago written a memoir, my
sensibilities toward narrative—especially trying to find a common thread in different pieces of
writing—had become a part of my songwriting process. One of the reasons I brought Kim Buie
in as a producer is that I wanted her to work with me the way an editor works, to look at a
number of songs and find the ones that worked together to create a tone.”
Close Ties is a roots record, in the sense that Crowell himself has deep roots that stretch back
into the alternative country scene of the early seventies. But is defies easy classification. Is it
country? Is it a songwriter record? Does art need categories? “Well,” Crowell says, “when I was
a quote-unquote country star for my fifteen minutes of major fame, I hated the label. I bristled at
it and got myself in trouble. I would go around to radio stations and that early morning
drive-time, chirpy optimism, and I would come across as grumpy. They knew my mind wasn’t in
the right place. I was an interloper in that world. I didn’t fit it. It soon spit me out. In hindsight, it
should have: I was no asset to their goal, which was to satisfy their advertisers.”
On the other hand, the rise of Americana music struck a nerve with him. “I have declared my
loyalty to Americana. It’s a hard category for people to get their heads around, or at least the
terminology is. But all the people who represent it—Townes van Zandt, Guy Clark, Lucinda
Williams, Steve Earle and more recent stars like John Paul White and Jason Isbell—share a
common thread, and that thread is poet. Whether they are actual poets or their music
exemplifies a poetic sensibility, generally speaking, the Americana artist shuns commercial
compromise in favor of a singular vision. Which resonates with me.”

One trait of a poet, Crowell explains, involves the careful handling of memory. “A few years ago
I made a record called The Hou ston Kid that triggered Chinaberry Sidewalks,” he says. “Those
memory muscles are pretty strong in me. They have a natural pull. And so many of these songs
use those memories as raw material.” They range from songs about Crowell’s childhood in
Texas (“East Houston Blues”) to songs about arriving in Nashville as a young songwriter
(“Nashville 1972”) to songs about friends (the anguished “Life Without Susanna”) and lovers
(the rueful “Forgive Me, Annabelle”). “It’s not always autobiographical memory,” he says.
“There’s fictional writing involved in it, too. But it’s all about thinking through the places that I’ve
been, and how I might use them as backdrop for reflection. In ‘East Houston Blues,’ for
example, I’m talking about the place where I grew up. Central Houston is broken into wards.
The Fifth Ward is where Lightnin’ Hopkins came from. The Third is where I come from.
Traditionally, the third ward was home to the poor white population, and the song doesn’t shy
away from that: it talks about poverty and petty crime but also communicates the joy of music.”
In the simmering “I Don’t Care Anymore,” he reflects ruefully on his current self-confidence (“I
don’t care anymore / if I stand out in a crowd”) but only in contrast with earlier incarnations of
himself. “That song is based on sketching who I was at my commercial peak, when I had five
number one records,” he says. “I had a mullet and I was trying to strut my ass around and make
the girls buy my records. I look back on that with some bemusement and a certain amount of
sarcasm. I pick on the work more than I should, maybe. In the song, the guy is writing
middle-of-the-road songs. That’s not exactly autobiographical. But it’s the feeling of not being
completely honest to yourself.”
“It Ain’t Over Yet,” a vocal collaboration with his ex-wife Rosanne Cash and John Paul White,
addresses how the passage of time can burnish love. “I don’t care what you think you heard /
We’re still learning how to fly,” he sings, and Cash answers with “I’ve known you forever and
ever it’s true / If you came by it easy you wouldn’t be you.” The record also features a duet with
Sheryl Crow on the haunting “I’m Tied To Ya.” The wisdom of women is never far from Crowell’s
mind, either in song or in life. “If you follow my path I think it was there from the start,” he says.
“Susanna Clark, who was married to the songwriter Guy Clark, became a very close friend when
I was in my early 20s. We weren’t lovers and in fact she offered me more than that. She was
this incredibly intelligent, creative woman---and my first ever muse. In my quest to please her
artistically, I became a realized songwriter. The same goes for Emmylou Harris whose natural
grace has impacted my life since 1975. Then there was my partnership with Rosanne Cash.
The marriage ended but from time to time the musical collaboration goes on. My wife now,
Claudia, offers the gift of stability to both my personal and professional endeavors. And with four
daughters and two grand daughters, my corner of the world is populated by formidable women.”
As he moves into elder-statesman territory, Crowell continues to extend the path carved out by
the top-tier songwriters who preceded him. “All are so important,” he said. “Bob Dylan would of
course be an archetype, as would Neil Young, Johnny Cash, John Lennon. Every time they
release work I find something in it.” He would add a name to the pantheon. “Kris Kristofferson
belongs in there, too. He personifies all that intelligence and emotional vulnerability and

magnetism. I spoke about him at Austin City Limits and said he changed the face of Nashville,
and he’s continued to give us deeply meaningful work like This Old Road.”
Fifty years after Crowell first started playing as a teen in Houston garage bands, he still believes
in the power of songs, and the responsibility of singing them. “The interesting thing about that
garage band back then is that we would go from ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ by the Beatles to
‘Honky Tonkin’’ by Hank Williams. In southeast Texas those songs fit side by side. ‘Drinkin’
Wine Spo-de-o-dee’ went right next to ‘Crossroads’ by Creem. That was the beauty of it, that all
of that existed side by side.” Crowell finds himself going back to that music, but also going even
earlier. “Recently, I think—I hope—that my study of the blues is starting to show up in my music.
Those artists, whether it’s Lightnin’ Hopkins or John Lee Hooker or the acoustic Delta players,
connected to something fundamental. With that in mind, I’m trying to move forward but also get
back there.”
Venue Information:
9081 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA, 90069

All lineups and times subject to change