Wed, Feb 27, 2013.
A highly-anticipated, and long-planned album has finally been released this week. It's a project that's been in the works since the mid-70's, one that matches two of the top country artists of the modern era in a series of duets. Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris are old, dear friends, and that goes back to the start of her solo career, 1975's Pieces of the Sky album. Crowell penned a track for that disc, and joined her new group, the Hot Band, as a guitar player and duet partner. He'd go on to write one or two songs for her next four albums, and see his own career take off as well. But they always talked about doing an album together, duets on some of his songs, and some songs by writers they both admired.
I ran into Emmylou at a concert this past September, and she mentioned that after decades of talking about doing the album, finally she and Crowell had figured they'd better get to it, who knows how long they'd have. It's called Old Yellow Moon, and features a mix of songs from Crowell, older numbers from Kris Kristofferson and Roger Miller, and more modern songwriters Hank Devito, Matraca Berg and Patti Scialfa. For us East Coast fans, there are two really strong and interesting connections to the disc.
I always read the credits on albums closely. Sometimes there are great stories, some jokes, even a nasty note will show up. The first Maritime connection here is an obvious one, "produced by Brian Ahern". If you're familiar with Emmylou's career, you'll know a bit about this. Ahern's from Nova Scotia, and came to fame as Anne Murray's first producer, Snowbird, and all those early hits. As her career grew, Ahern became a desired guy, and one of the projects he picked up was this new signing out of the States, Emmylou Harris. That worked out very well. Not only did he produce her run of hit albums into the 80's, they also got married. Now, the marriage ended later, but they have stayed friends, so much so that the last few Harris discs have once again featured Brian Ahern as the producer. And of course he knew Rodney from back in the day, so it was natural he work on this as well.
The other connection is a little more obscure, but an important part of the story too. If you check the thank-you's, under Crowell's name, the very first one is to Skip Beckwith. Know that name? He's been a fixture on the East Coast jazz circuit for years, playing with people such as Jerry Granelli out of Halifax, and teaching music at St. Francis Xavier University, as well as fronting his own interesting projects. But Skip's history is tied to Anne Murray too. Back from 1969 to 1975, Skip was Murray's band leader, and the musical right-hand man for Brian Ahern. And one time Brian asked Skip to go down to Nashville to visit the publishing houses. He was looking for some hot new writers and tracks for Anne. Skip ended up making the rounds of Music Row, and stopping in at Jerry Reed's. Reed had written Guitar Man for Elvis, hit on his own with When You're Hot You're Hot, even acted in the Cannonball Run films, and owned his own publishing company too. There, Skip ran into a new writer by the name of... Rodney Crowell. They hit it off, and Skip even slept on Rodney's couch while in town. He promised to pass on the great tunes he heard.
Skip got back to Toronto, passed the tape to Ahern, who didn't think the songs were right for Anne Murray, but he did think this new signing of his, Emmylou Harris, might like them. In short order, Crowell was invited to meet Emmylou, and he got the gig in the band, too. Rodney Crowell obviously hasn't forgot the day he met a Maritimer who changed his life, and since Skip had told me this story years ago, it was a thrill to see his name on the credits to the new album.
Oh ya, the album, Old Yellow Moon. So how is it? Come on, it's Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris, do you think it could be anything but great? I love it.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).