Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell © David McLister
“Er, yeah, I know, we don’t have a good answer for that.” It feels somewhat wrong to leave a true music legend like Emmylou Harris stumped for words but happily: a) she’s smiling; and b) a fuller, more philosophical answer is just around the corner.
“Rodney and I just jumped into this music thing once we got our chance and we never stopped,” explains Emmylou. “Solo records, other projects, Rodney’s been producing, writing… And all these different things kept us pretty busy. We don’t really take time off, we love what we do. Then all of a sudden we were approaching 40 years. And it dawned on me that if we were going to do this record, we had to set time aside. So I called Rodney, he still wanted to do it, we looked at our calendars and said nothing else is going to infringe on that time, we’ve got to at least make a start. And once it started we had to finish.”
“If I could take the liberty of adding something to that,” asks the unerringly polite Rodney, “someone asked me that question earlier today, and my slightly philosophical answer was ‘well, because now is the time...’
“I can’t say this about Emmy but I can say this about me and that’s what I had to offer to a record – other than some good songs – at this time in my life is more than I had to offer any time before. Truly. When I was 35 years old, other themes about making my way through the music business might have been too much on my mind to just relax and enjoy something as blessed as making a record with Emmy.”
“I think perhaps it should always have been a record between two old friends,” adds Emmylou. “We had the friends, we just had to get old.”
While Rodney laughs and speculates just where Emmy’s “perfect soundbite” will fit in this interview, she’s got a point. The album, Old Yellow Moon, sees the two tackle old songs they’ve not recorded before – their own and other people’s – and, in the case of Bluebird Wine, a song Rodney wrote for Emmylou’s first album, a rewrite of the first two verses.
“Emmy defined that song,” explains Rodney. “I didn’t think I had anything to add past what she did. It was beautiful. But the public perception of our relationship started with that song and I thought ‘oh that’s a good reason to do the song.’ And I thought the one thing I know about writing is that revision is your friend...
“So I asked Emmy if she’d mind,” continues Rodney, over Emmylou’s laughter. “Emmy is the one, in conversation years ago, we were talking about songs, and she said ‘no soft rhymes!’ and there were some soft rhymes in those first verses.” He shrugs, and grins. “It’s Emmy’s standards, I wanted to make sure all the rhymes were good.”
While the record is a revisiting of old songs, it doesn’t feel like an old record, an admittedly clumsy statement the two musicians have a lot of fun with.
“We’re just naturally hip,” drawls Rodney.
“Of course it sounds new, it’s not even out yet,” adds a laughing Emmylou. “It’s pre-contemporary...”
The bottom line is it’s a timeless record of great songs and stunning harmonies, those two old friends doing what they do best and clearly enjoying every minute.
“When you’re young, you don’t think beyond the next half hour,” says Emmylou. “Now, at this age, I do a lot of reflecting. Not actively, but it’s just kind of always there. The lion’s share of your life is behind you, you know that, and it makes each day more precious but you still think about the past. I’ve had such an extraordinary life, and I’m still enjoying it, still benefitting from it – for example my friendship with Rodney – I still have a sense of wonder about it, which gives me a sense of wonder about what’s going to happen, and you must keep that always.
“The album is kind of a celebration of our individual lives, and friendship, and music that we love. To love music and be able to play music is an extraordinary gift. I’ve never taken it for granted.”
Rodney nods. “You make a record like this, I don’t know if you can call it a career move,” he explains, grinning. “It just needed to be done.”
Old Yellow Moon is released March 4 on Nonesuch Records.