Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell know a thing or two about what remains after the stage lights fade and the glisten of youth folds into wrinkles: it's the songs. Friends for decades and collaborators on 2013's Grammy-winning Old Yellow Moon, neither has sought to make their mark with the splash of fleeting celebrity. Rather, they've built their legacies with melodies, lyrics and timeless voices that lace together the most permanent of humanity's living records. In fact, this could be a theme of their second duets collection, The Traveling Kind, out May 12th on Nonesuch. Listen to the title track in our exclusive premiere below.
"In the wind are names of poets past; some were friends of yours and mine," they sing in their own breed of balanced harmony, "and to those unsung, we lift our glass, may their songs become the traveling kind."
Old Yellow Moon paid tribute to quite a few of those poets — they sang songs by Hank DeVito, Roger Miller, Kris Kristofferson — but for The Traveling Kind, Harris and Crowell had a hand in crafting many of the tracks, collaborating with writers Mary Carr, Cory Chisel, Will Jennings and Larry Klein. "The Traveling Kind," set to a nostalgic, chugging beat, carves the path for the record, which floats from Memphis grooves to classic, country-infused folk ballads, telling stories of love, struggle and the very special art of confessing to both through lyric.
"Being in the room as 'The Traveling Kind' came into full view was a spiritual experience for me," says Chisel, who wrote the song with the duo, as well as another track, "You Can't Say We Didn't Try." "Having my hands in the paint next to my heroes was one of the creative high points of my life."
Recorded at Sound Emporium and House of Blues Studio, both in Nashville, the album is a continuation of a partnership that began decades ago but didn't see itself to a true duet collaboration until Old Yellow Moon. Harris first covered Crowell's "Bluebird Wine" on her 1975 album Pieces of the Sky; he played guitar in her band and she backed him on his first solo LP. "We vowed the first night we met in 1974 to make a record," Crowell told Rolling Stone. It took over 30 years to see it through the first time, but only two to make the follow-up. "I finally grew into my voice," he said, "and got comfortable with the sound of it, and when we made [Old Yellow Moon], I went in and said, 'OK, I'm ready. I can deliver on my end of this duet partnership.'"
Indeed, their type of duet finds a subtle, perfect balance in each of their unmistakable tones — never a battle, with Harris's higher warble sliding into Crowell's warm twang. The Traveling Kind is probably about as deserving of the term "Americana" as it comes, weaving in elements of our entire historical landscape, mixing notes from the mountains with notes of both the cities and the plains. The songs range from the bluesy "The Weight of the World" to the country shuffle "You Can't Say We Didn't Try," and there's even a little kiss-off humor on "If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home Now," driven by a steel guitar boogie.
"In the words of Willie Nelson, 'The life I love is making music with my friends,' and there's no better friend for me to make music with than Rodney," said Harris in a statement.
Produced by Joe Henry (Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello), the record also offers versions of a few of those friends' beloved songs, like Lucinda Williams' "I Just Wanted to See You So Bad" and Amy Allison's "Her Hair Was Red," which is a subtly faithful take on the nasal cult singer's mournful ode that puts the lyrics into sharp focus.
Harris and Crowell have announced select tour dates in May timed to the album release, playing City Winery venues in Chicago, New York, Napa and Nashville as well as San Francisco's classic Fillmore Theater. Crowell himself is also still on tour supporting his 2014 solo release Tarpaper Sky.
"I love the sound of two voices together," Harris said, "whether it's two women or two men or a man and a woman. It just creates a third voice." A third voice, that propels The Traveling Kind and the melodies that etch their way into our permanent songbook.
Pre-order Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell's The Traveling Kind album here.