This tour is currently in progress, billed as “Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell with Richard Thompson”. If any of those names resonate, go see it.

Vancouver’s show was at The Orpheum, quite appropriate I think. Here’s an architectural detail:

Architectural detail, Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver

Just like that bit in the picture, the Emmylou/Rodney set was beautifully-designed, perfectly-executed, and entirely traditional. Not a single lick or harmony or bridge was offered that hasn’t been offered a thousand times before; they were mostly born in honkey-tonks and now live in fancy concert halls, and there’s nothing wrong with either of those things. And there was nothing wrong with the concert.

Richard Thompson · There are a lot of people for whom Mr Thompson is a bigger deal than Ms Harris; I’m pretty even-handed myself, but it was awfully nice that he was more than just an opener; he came out to do some numbers with her and Rodney, notably How Will I Ever Be Simple Again; not too many dry eyes in the house on that one. They also had three-part-harmony fun on Crowell’s Glasgow Girl, which I’d never heard.

Good things · Well, the songs of course, Richard did Wall of Death and Valerie and Walking on a Wire and 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. Emmylou and Rodney did Pancho and Lefty and Love Hurts (sob) and Luxury Liner and Grievous Angel and Dreaming My Dreams With You.

And of course the harmonies. You’re asking a lot of an electric-band sound system to get out of the way and let them through but it mostly did, and the world just has no vocal sound more beautiful than Emmylou Harris wrapping herself round a strong male voice.

The pleasant surprise was the song arrangements, just astonishingly good. The band were Nashville-ace quality, the pedal-steel guy a little on the ordinary side and Aussie axeman Jedd Hughes extraordinary. But those arrangements: California-flavored country with strong strains of honky-tonk and Texas Swing, joyous but almost severely formal in the trade-offs: Verse, pedal-steel flourish, piano riff, verse, guitar break, bridge, sudden burst of acapella, big drumkit surge on the closing choruses. Time-tested stuff, but awfully damn effective and played with real heart. In the big guitar solo on one of the fast closing numbers, Jedd roared down onto the bottom string then detuned it for a beautifully trashy ow-wow-wow, everyone else in the band was grinning ear-to-ear and me too.

Irritants · I’ve seen Richard Thompson play twice and have yet to see him strap on an electric guitar. Pfui.

When Emmylou really opened up and went to max volume, something in her microphone or the amplification chain was screaming for mercy; but she stays in the middle of her range mostly, so it wasn’t fatal. She’s also got this mannerism where she sings all the words in a line except for one, which she just breathes; I think it breaks the flow but who am I to tell her how to sing?

New record · Emmylou and Rodney have one out, Old Yellow Moon, and the numbers they played from it sounded excellent; may have to snap that up.

[Postscript: Nonesuch records has it in FLAC for $13. Done.]


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From: Johnny (Nov 12 2013, at 17:11)

That mannerism used to annoy me too, mostly because I wasn't always getting that last word; thought it had to do with my less than perfect grasp of the English language.

Then, as I started to appreciate and know her songs better, with so many becoming favorites, the whispering of those last - by now known so well - words feels more like a way through which she lets us, with our inner voices, join and complete the rhythm of the line or verse. Hope it works the same way for others, because it feels really good.


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November 08, 2013
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