It took friends Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell about 35 years to finally release their first album together, 2013’s Grammy-winning Old Yellow Moon, and only six days to record its follow-up, The Traveling Kind. This time around, the duo opted to co-write six of the LP’s 11 songs, a process that was aided by their comfort from touring together.
“We were hot off the road. Good and greasy,” Harris tells Rolling Stone Country of the time leading up to the album’s recording.
“Two different records, two different processes,” adds Crowell. “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.”
Both feel the other is better in certain areas — Crowell credits Harris as the better singer, and she gives him props as the master songwriter — and look to one another as mentors of their craft. “I thought it could be daunting because I always assume the worst, but Rodney makes it easy,” says Harris. “I’m so comfortable with him and I know what a good writer he is.”
“I find myself feeling really good as a vocalist, singing with Emmy,” Crowell responds. “That feeling opens the doorways where I hunt and find things that I might probably wouldn’t do on my own. The last two or three years that Emmy and I have been working together have been very beneficial to me as a singer. I feel like a really accomplished singer, and I would presume that the flipside of that is that Emmy may feel good about herself as a songwriter.”
The duet partners first met in 1974, when Harris was working on her first solo album. She was looking for outside songs to record and heard a cassette tape of Crowell singing “Blueberry Wine,” which she chose to cover as the opening track of her Pieces of the Sky LP. The icon remembers loving his voice upon first listen and tracking him down to ask if he’d join her band for a concert.
“Then when we met and sang together, it was just as natural as anything,” she recalls. “We used to have fun working up a song – ‘OK, now you take the lead. OK, let’s do it in a different key and you take the lead,’ — and it always sounded great both ways. We love singing together and we both are a fan of just good songs and harmony. It’s not a matter of who sings lead, it’s just like a dance. Even though I’m not much of a dancer!”
The pair recently visited Rolling Stone’s New York studios to perform two songs from the project, “The Traveling Kind” and “The Weight of the World.” The former is an examination of old friends who’ve passed, while the latter was inspired by their mutual concern over pollution and other environmental issues.
Harris and Crowell are currently on the road together in support of The Traveling Kind. Check out cities and dates on their tour here.