Country music icons Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell may have known each other for more than four decades, but The Travelling Kind is only their second full-length together after 2013’s Grammy-winning Old Yellow Moon. The 28th album for Harris and 11th for Crowell was produced by Joe Henry (who has worked with artists as diverse as Billy Bragg and sister-in-law Madonna) and recorded over six days.
Yes, there are some re-recordings of Crowell’s tracks like the tender ballad about loss No Memories Hanging Around and the feel good, barely containable Bring It on Home to Memphis. If anything, they benefit from an update. Harris’ fragile yet angelic whisper adds even more timelessness to the former, whilst she contributes a bit of Southern sass in her spoken bridge in the latter. Just Pleasing You sounds more honest and plaintive as a duet, as if Crowell is apologising for his propensity to get drunk himself to Harris directly.
There are just two covers here; far less than on Old Yellow Moon. Listeners can feel the desperation in Harris and Crowell’s nicely harmonising voices on a propulsive take of Lucinda Williams’ I Just Wanted to See You So Bad. Harris’ vocal highlight is easily on a heartbreaking rendition of Amy Allison’s Her Hair Was Red.
The new songs co-written by the pair and a few other co-writers also work a charm and mark a clear journey from separation to reconciliation. The sparkly, nostalgic title track is gloriously gin-soaked and worthy soundtrack to a nomadic, gypsy life. You Can’t Say We Didn’t Try slows things down after the raucous Bring It on Home to Memphis, drawing out the sad but inevitable farewell with the closing of the window, the locking of the key and the dropping of plans.
The Weight of the World jazzes it up with a dark uneasiness, as listeners can imagine plastic bottles and the American dream going down the gurgler with the shuffling pattering cymbals, guitar strums, rapid bass riffs and smoky, harder guitar solos.
The devastating, slide guitar-driven Higher Mountains captures Harris’ indecision in letting go and wistfulness, as she seems to see life pass her by. The combination of the deceptively sprightly music and unapologetic lyrics (‘I don’t wonder where you are, I don’t even care’) on If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now is hilarious. The French-influenced La Danse de la Joie is as joyous as its title, as Harris and Crowell recapture their youth on this romantic closer driven by upbeat violins.