“This is the culmination of a 40-year conversation,” Rodney Crowell has said of Old Yellow Moon, his long-awaited collaboration with Americana doyenne Emmylou Harris, with whom he began his career in 1975. Not only does the album reunite the pair with esteemed producer-guitarist (and Harris’s former husband) Brian Ahern, the rootsy collection features members of Harris’s original Hot Band, in which Crowell served as rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist — guitarist James Burton, bassist Emory Gordy Jr. and pianist Glen D. Hardin. These torchbearers of ’70s country-rockin’ cool (and Elvis Presley and Gram Parsons sidemen to boot) add class and oomph to the proceedings. Other contributors include Vince Gill and Willie Nelson’s secret weapon, harmonica ace Mickey Raphael. While the guest list is impressive, Old Yellow Moon, with its rough-hewn, live-in-a-room ambience, offers what Harris refers to as “living room music.” “This project — like Rodney’s and my relationship — started with sitting around on the floor with two acoustic guitars and finding songs that we love,” according to Harris. “This record represents that.”
The stellar tunes need no pampering. Among Crowell’s four contributions is the cinematic “Bluebird Wine,” which first brought the songwriter to Harris’ attention in 1974. The rest of the album runs the gamut from Kris Kristofferson’s chugging “Chase the Feeling,” to Roger Miller’s woebegone “Invitation to the Blues,” to Patti Scialfa’s elegiac “Spanish Dancer.”
Old Yellow Moon‘s emotional centerpiece is their stunning rendition of Matraca Berg’s heartbreaking “Back When We Were Beautiful,” with the line, “I hate it when they say I’m aging gracefully/ I fight it every day.” Yet for Harris and Crowell, it seems, time has given as much as it has taken away.