Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell owe their musical partnership to a happy accident. Back in the mid-Seventies, Harris just happened to hear a few of Crowell’s songs on a cassette tape intended for Anne Murray, who was making an album at the time. But so was Harris, who claimed one of those tunes, “Bluebird Wine,” for her debut album. She was so hooked by the voice on the cassette that the singer tracked him down to hear more. Striking up an immediate friendship, Crowell joined Harris’ Hot Band and became her frequent songwriting partner and sounding board.
Still, it wasn’t until almost four decades later that the musicians teamed for an entire album, 2013’s critically-lauded Old Yellow Moon. Fresh off its Grammy-winning success, the wheels started turning for another duets LP, but this one with a bit more of a hands-on approach, at least when it came to songwriting. The Traveling Kind, released this month, is a snapshot of the longtime friends’ musical kinship. As Harris and Crowell discussed (and demonstrated) in Rolling Stone‘s New York studios, before performing two of the album’s songs, even music pros can still surprise and inspire each other.
It took a few decades for you to record an album together for the first time, but your second project of duets came quick. Was it easier this time around?
Harris: I don’t think our comfort level ever changed. We’ve always been comfortable, but as far as the process, Rodney can tell you it was pretty quick.
Crowell: Two different records, two different processes. The first record was a conversation about, “What do you want to do?” And we felt it was kind of a covers thing, and then with the second, our conversation was about writing songs. That, combined with the fact that we had a really fine band and we’d been on the road for a year.
Harris: Yeah, we were hot off the road. Good and greasy.
Crowell: It made it easy. We didn’t have to search for anything.
So the songwriting process wasn’t as daunting as you might have thought it could be?
Harris: Well, I thought it could be daunting because I always assume the worst, but Rodney makes it easy. I’m so comfortable with him and I know what a good writer he is.
Crowell: I refuse to think of anything other than a blast to get to do it in the first place.
Harris: if you’re co-writing and it’s with a friend, even if you didn’t come up with a song, you had a nice visit. Rodney and I always did come up with a song.