Already a beacon for legendary country music performers, CSUN's Valley Performing Arts Center on Friday night added Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell to a long and distinguished list of performers that already included Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers and Travis Tritt.
For Harris, 66, an inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and Crowell, 63, the tour that brought them to CSUN was also a reunion. During the 1970s, Crowell was part of The Hot Band, which backed up Harris. The friendship and musical collaboration of the two Grammy winners endured through the decades, resulting in last February's release of their duet album, Old Yellow Moon.
Their 130-minutes performance featured more than two dozen songs, including several from their new album. They presented an assortment of individual hits, duets of songs they (mostly Harris) had sung with others and a few miscellaneous numbers, as well. The two, accomplished on guitar, were backed by five other musicians on a stage that was bare save for the instruments and mikes.
Harris confessed that she started her career in the early 1970s with aspirations of following in the footsteps of Joan Baez. Though she came to perform and be associated with country, her rock roots were never far below the surface.
But, as she demonstrated to a nearly full house, her music and style defies easy categorization. She can sing of teen angst (Love Hurts) one moment, lend passion to a rendition of Patti Scialfa's Spanish Dancer the next and find the heart of Roger Miller's Invitation to the Blues, as well. (The latter two numbers are on the Old Yellow Moon album. Other selections from the album included the title song and Matraca Berg's When We Were Beautiful.)
Crowell, no slouch when it comes to producing hits, chipped in some of his best tunes. These included Stars on the Water, which served as the first encore.
In today's concert scene, there's nothing particularly unique about a best-selling artist from decades past going from city to city and venue to venue, dishing out hits from long ago to a baby boomer audience eager for nostalgia.
That's not what Harris and Crowell were about, though. Instead, they poured old wine into new vessels, giving a freshness to familiar material. Their duet on Love Hurts updates Harris' original cover of that number with Gram Parsons in 1974. Their performance of If I Needed You was even more pleasing than the version Harris did with Don Williams in 1981.
Musically, the evening was a triumphant blend of older and newer selections, of music with a classic country sound and pieces that fused with rock and folk.
What was missing, though, was a little narration, maybe some anecdotes, to forge a tighter connection with the audience and, maybe more importantly, to give more insight into how this reunion took shape and why this music was so meaningful in the careers of these accomplished artists.
Neither Harris nor Crowell spoke a word to the audience until after their third number. Even then, and throughout the night, they shed precious little light on their careers, their collaboration and the music that has thrilled generations.