Music Interviews
1:15 pm
Sat March 2, 2013

Emmylou Harris And Rodney Crowell: Staying Low

Originally published on Sat March 2, 2013 10:45 am

Almost 40 years after their first collaboration, Emmylou Harris and former bandmate Rodney Crowell are back with a new album of duets. Old Yellow Moon includes Crowell originals as well as revivals of songs by Roger Miller, Patti Scialfa and Kris Kristofferson.

"The whole spirit of this record was just two people singing together," Harris says. "That was the most important thing."

"Technology allows you to produce and manipulate," Crowell adds. "You can manipulate sound and you can manufacture recordings, but you cannot manufacture a performance."

The duo spoke with NPR's Scott Simon and performed a song from Old Yellow Moon in the studio.


Interview Highlights

On recording the title track

Emmylou Harris: "[The version on the album] was the very first time we ever sang the song together. When we listened back later on, you know, we were getting ready to record and we were gonna re-cut the song. And we listened to the demo, and we said, 'There's no way.' You know, the gods don't grace you with something like that very often — to be able to capture a moment like that."

On the development of their voices

Emmylou Harris: "I really have shaken hands with where my voice is right now. I think it's got a little deeper; it's got some more grooves in it. With me it was never about my voice as much as how can I tell the story of this song. And if I really love a song, nothing is gonna get in my way. Because it's more about the emotion ... and if I can't go as high as I would like then I'm just gonna stay low."

On the song "Open Season On My Heart"

Crowell: "I wrote that song during a very happy and peaceful time in my life ... [but] I can engage melancholy as if it were a kind of reverie. ... I had my heart broken as a young man at the age of 21, 22 — I mean, deeply. And you know, that'll be with me the rest of my life; that experience, I can still draw on it. Even on a day when I wake up and it's 'zip-a-dee-doo-dah' outside, the blues are still close by."

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Really, is it possible? Is Emmylou Harris really thinking about hanging up her heart?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HANGING UP MY HEART")

EMMYLOU HARRIS: (Singing) Well, I'm hanging up my heart, in the lodge in the bunkhouse, I don't wanna be wounded, better off having loved...

SIMON: The Hall of Fame songstress is back with a new album of duets with her former band mate and good old friend Rodney Crowell.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

EMMYLOU HARRIS AND RODNEY CROWELL: (Singing) If I were you, I'd try to understand, and see my point of view. If I were you, I'd never be the one who treats me like you do...

SIMON: Rodney Crowell, of course, has his own Grammy, many nominations and his songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Norah Jones and Etta James. Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell's new album is called "Old Yellow Moon." They join us in our studios in New York. What an honor to have you both with us. Thanks very much.

RODNEY CROWELL: Thank you.

HARRIS: Thanks, Scott. We're big fans.

SIMON: Well, thank you. I'm a huge fan of both of you. And it strikes me that this partnership you've had for about four decades. What makes you want to do an album together all these years later?

CROWELL: Well, how much fun it promises to be, and that's been proven true, because we've been having fun. Well, we've been having fun as long as we've known each other. And I don't have to tell you. You know, you make a record with Emmylou Harris, one of the great singers of our time. Although this is my dear friend for life, you know, I also get a chance to step up. This is a great singer and I'm going to prove my mettle as a singer.

SIMON: Well, let's listen to the title track, "Old Yellow Moon."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD YELLOW MOON")

CROWELL: (Singing) We are counting the stars, out in the night running old yellow moon. With you, right by my side, I got nothing to hide from an old yellow moon...

HARRIS: What you just heard is the very first time we ever sang a song together. When we listen back later on, you know, we were getting ready to record and we cut the song and we listened to the, quote, "demo" and we said there's no way. You know, the gods don't grace you with something like that very often, to be able to capture a moment like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG , "OLD YELLOW MOON")

CROWELL: (Singing) With you, I'm making my way, into the heart on an unknown highway...

SIMON: Can I ask both of you how does your voice change over the years when you hear it?

HARRIS: Oh, boy. I mean, I...

SIMON: And you feel it.

HARRIS: ...I sound so young and my voice sounds so high and kind of thin to me. I don't mean in a bad way, but I really have shaken hands with one of my voices right now. I think it's got a little deeper. It's got some more grooves in it. And with me it was never about my voice as much as how can I tell the story of this song? And if I really love a song, nothing is going to get in my way because it's more about the emotion of the story of the song. And if I can't go as high as I would like then I'm just going to stay low.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK CAFFEINE")

HARRIS: (Singing) I like it black, just black as night, it keeps me up, it keeps my tight. It don't matter...

CROWELL: For me, it's truly my experience about 10 years ago, as I turned 50, I made peace with my voice. And now I really like the sound of my voice. And it's...

HARRIS: See, I've always loved the sound of Rodney's voice. My mother likes it, too. My mother has always loved your voice, Rodney.

CROWELL: I know. And I should have listened to her and made peace with it a long time ago.

HARRIS: Yes, you should have.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK CAFFEINE")

CROWELL: (Singing) Well, I've got a monkey sitting on my back. And wouldn't you know, he likes it black. Don't need no creed, no nicotine. All that monkey needs, black caffeine.

CROWELL: (Singing) Oh, black caffeine...

SIMON: Emmylou Harris, of course, you sang on Bob Dylan's 1976 album "Sire." What was it like?

HARRIS: Well, it happened very fast and I thought that I was being specifically invited for who I was and what my voice sounded like. But really I'd just been hired by the executive producer who happened to be a fan of mine. Bob Dylan didn't have a clue who I was - well, I don't think he did. And in a way it was kind of cool because I was just another musician sitting next to him, two microphones right next to each other and the lyrics in front of me that I was seeing for the first time. And I do recall this: that when the music started, I was sitting there and he literally poked me.

SIMON: Bob Dylan.

HARRIS: Yeah. Just, in other words, sing.

CROWELL: Can I edit Emmy's story a little bit?

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Yes, by all means. That would help us.

HARRIS: Please, Rodney.

CROWELL: Only that Emmy has this really lovely humility that's true through and through. But I was standing there at her house when Bob Dylan called. And he did know who you were because when you hung up the phone, I remember you turned to me and you said, hey, that was Bob Dylan. He just called and you know what he said to me? Hey, Emmylou, this is Bob Dylan. I heard you have a song on the Hit Parade.

SIMON: Bob Dylan said that?

HARRIS: See, he has a much better memory than I do.

CROWELL: That satisfied my image of Bob Dylan. I heard you have a song on the Hit Parade.

SIMON: Let's listen to another song, if we could - one that you wrote, Rodney Crowell. This is "Open Season on My Heart."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OPEN SEASON ON MY HEART")

CROWELL: (Singing) Here's to the corn that's yet to turn. Here's to the bridges yet to burn. Here's to the whole thing blown apart. It's open season on my heart...

CROWELL: (Singing) Days go by like flying bricks, these gaping holes too deep to fix.

CROWELL: I just stay home if I were swamped, it's open season on my heart...

SIMON: Where does this song come from, Mr. Crowell?

CROWELL: You know, as I'm listening to it, I was thinking about it. You know, I wrote that song during a very happy and peaceful time in my life. And...

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Boy, that's disappointing. I was hoping for a great song story. You go ahead.

CROWELL: Well, here's the thing. It just came to me as we were listening, and I can engage melancholy as if it were a kind of revelry. 'Cause inside of that blue tonality that, you know, on the back sides of our heart, that's where those kind of songs come from. And, you know, I had my heart broken as a young man at the age of 21, 22. I mean, deeply. And, you know, that'll be with me the rest of my life, that experience. I can still draw on it, even on a day when I wake up and it's zippity-doo-dah outside.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OPEN SEASON ON MY HEART")

CROWELL: (Singing) I can't be something that I'm not.

CROWELL: (Singing) I can't give you what I haven't got...

HARRIS: I love sad the songs. And I say on stage they make me so happy.

CROWELL: They do. And is there anything more beautiful than a sad song?

HARRIS: A really sad song that pierces you to the heart.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OPEN SEASON ON MY HEART")

CROWELL: (Singing) It's open season on my heart.

CROWELL: (Singing) I hit the streets and the fireworks start...

CROWELL: It's open season on my heart.

SIMON: We're fortunate you're going to perform a song for us, right?

CROWELL: We're going to, yes.

HARRIS: We're going to.

SIMON: What's the song you're going...

HARRIS: "Dreaming My Dreams" is - if I may speak for Rodney - one of our favorite songs from one of the great albums of all-time, just Waylon Jennings, "Dreaming My Dreams." It really is an extraordinarily beautiful song.

SIMON: I can't wait to hear it.

HARRIS: Boy. I set us up, Rodney.

CROWELL: And we better deliver.

SIMON: Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell in our New York bureau. Their album: "Old Yellow Moon."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DREAMING MY DREAMS")

CROWELL: (Singing) I hope that I won't be that wrong anymore, maybe I've learned this time. I hope that I find what I'm reaching for, the way that it is in my mind.

HARRIS: (Singing) Someday I'll get over you. And I'll live to see it all through. But I'll always miss dreaming my dreams with you.

SIMON: You can hear the full version of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell singing "Dreaming My Dreams" - and you should - at nprmusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.