The Traveling Kind: Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell At Their Peak [review]

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Written by Justin Stoltzfus

“The Traveling Kind,” a new record from country masters Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, is outrageously good. Here’s why. [review]

aNewDomain — Emmylou Harris has done it again. With 26 studio albums under her belt — they go all the way back to 1975 — Harris has released another excellent record.”The Traveling Kind” is a collaboration with former The Hot Band member and musical associate Rodney Crowell.

The recordings on “The Traveling Kind” are unique and powerful. It isn’t the first time that Harris and Crowell have done together: The album is preceded by the Grammy Award winning “Old Yellow Moon,” another collection of duets and cooperative hits put out in 2013. Like “Old Yellow Moon,” the new release doesn’t really mess around with the conventions of classic country all that much. But “The Traveling Kind” is different in that it’s the ultimate showcase of the sheer abilities of both musicians. That’s where it really shines.

Country Sounds

The production and instrumentation of “The Traveling Kind” echo back to some of Harris’ earlier work. This is evident on the title track, where the high-production mandolin and ambient track sounds call to mind the singer’s 2000 album “Red Dirt Girl.” Interestingly, that is also referenced in the lyric:

“We were born to brave this tilted world/ With our hearts laid on the line/ Be it way-crossed boy or red dirt girl/ The song becomes the traveling kind.”

Video: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – The Traveling Kind

All of this works within the minor arc of a track, which sounds like something Jeff Bridges would have crooned in “Crazy Heart.”

There are more classic sounds in the steel guitar of “No Memories Hanging Around,” and in the slowed-down fiddle and accordion elements in “Le Danse de la Joie.”

The Ties That Bind

Many of the tracks on “The Traveling Kind” reference family and romantic ties, heartbreak, domesticity and all of the small details that fit with these overarching themes.

And then there’s the parental theme of the duet “Bring it on Home to Memphis,” where both mom and dad describe the grittiness of Los Angeles compared to their heartland home. They are plying their gone-away daughter with “hot-buttered biscuits, dewberry pie, white-flour gravy … cucumber salad … and cold soda-water.”

Video: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – Bring It on Home to Memphis

There’s mama dancing with daddy in the above-mentioned French-titled track, and the needy redundancy of “Just Wanted to See You so Bad.” The poetic enchantments of the track “Higher Mountains” depicts the singer speaking to a departed lover against an orchestral softness:

“Higher mountains/ Deeper valleys/ Longer rivers/ Stand between us now/ I could climb that jagged peak/ I could cross that great divide/ If I knew that you would be waiting on the other side.”

Video: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – Higher Mountains

Another track, “Her Hair Was Red,” covers another kind of relationship, that between the living and the dead. Harris sings a song about a descendant giving her testimony of an ancestor, with obvious limitations that come from having only faded pictures, or visual memories, to work from:

“You wouldn’t know she traveled far and wide/ You wouldn’t know she lived here all her life/ There’s so much you’ll never know about her/ So much left to say that’s left unsaid/ But I had this picture in my memory/ And her eyes were blue, her hair was red.”

Video: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – Her Hair Was Red

This new album is a testimony to Harris and Crowell, who are both now well into their sixties. These are stalwart performers who easily rival musicians one third their age on the charts.

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Featured image: Emmylou Harris by digboston via Flickr