Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell on Keeping Fans in Country Music


By Brian Ives 

Hearing Emmylou Harris sing in person is a transcendent experience. And while many have had the experience of hearing her perform in concert, far less have sat next to her in a small conference room when she breaks into song.

But that’s what happened during the interview to promote The Traveling Kindher new album with fellow legend and longtime collaborator Rodney Crowell.

The song is “You Can’t Say We Didn’t Try,” as sad and classic-sounding of a country song as you’re likely to hear this year (or this decade), and Harris sings just one line. Yet for someone like me, who’s been listening to her music for many years, it’s hard to stay composed.

And this is one of the great things about both Harris and Crowell: their most recent songs can floor you, just as surely as the ones they recorded decades ago. In other words, far from coasting on their individual legacies, Harris and Crowell created an album stands up to nearly anything they’ve done in the past.

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Radio.com: I love the lyrics to the first song, “The Traveling Kind”—”We don’t all die young….”

Emmylou Harris: “…to save our spark.”

It made me think of how a lot of artists with deep catalogs don’t always have audiences who always care about their new music. I don’t feel that that’s the case with you guys: your audience wants to hear you address your lives today, and their lives today.

Emmylou: I don’t know if that’s true, most of the people I hang with do have that longevity. But I think that our audiences zig when we zig and zag when we zag and I think they expect us to put our hearts on our sleeves. I think we have them very well-trained, or maybe they have trained us. But, yes, there’s always that thing of “I love your old stuff.” We’ve gotten that too. We’re not locked into any time, or painted into any corner, and I guess we’re lucky that way.

You guys recorded “No Memories Hangin’ ‘Round” for the album; Rodney you originally wrote that in 1979 for Rosanne Cash. 

Rodney Crowell: Well, Roseanne and Bobby Bare did it. I produced that for her. She wanted me to sing that with her. I said no, it should be Bobby Bare, I don’t why I said that.

Emmylou: We love Bobby Bare. He’s so great.

Rodney: I always thought, “I’m gonna record that song on my own one day, as a singular narrative,” but somehow I never got around to it until now.

Emmylou: It’s a great duet.

When I started listening to the album, I did so without reading liner notes: I didn’t know who played on what songs, or who wrote them. I figured “You Can’t Say We Didn’t Try” and “If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now” were covers, they have such a vintage and classic sound. Were you going for that? 

Rodney: The truth is, you can’t set out and say “I’m gonna write a classic!” You back into that garage, if you’re lucky. We just go in the studio on any given day… Cory Chisel came in and says “I’ve got this melody.” [hums “You Can’t Say We Didn’t Try”]

Emmylou: But remember, Rodney, we were missing one line. I love the song so much, when it got to that part where [sings] “Maybe somewhere down the line, we’ll remember who we were.” And then I said, “But, OK, what’s the next line?” Rodney calls me on the phone and says, “I think I’ve got it: ‘Another place, another time, When some old feeling starts to stir.'” And I said “YES!”

Rodney: I was proud of that moment.

Emmylou: He got it for me. He delivered it for me!

Read the full interview with Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell on Radio.com

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