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Country/folk tour de forces Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell are releasing Old Yellow Moon at ages when most people would have the idea of retirement looming above their graying heads. This obviously isn’t a consideration for either of these musicians. With more than thirty studio album releases and thirteen Grammys between them, Old Yellow Moon is something new for both—the first collaboration for these longtime friends. It’s an honest, classic-country sound that meanders from sassy, self-confidence to the occasional introspective ballad and back again. It covers all the emotional bases and culminates in a solid, if somewhat predictable, album.
The fact that both Harris and Crowell are seasoned professionals in the music industry creeps in subtly on Old Yellow Moon. Their established ability and confidence in who they are as musicians saves this album from teetering into hokey country territory. “Hanging Up My Heart,” the upbeat opening track about love gone wrong, is about as country as it comes. It’s simple and repetitive, but Crowell and Harris’ voices have an air of sophistication to them, serving as the anchor for what could sound like a silly, easy song.
“Hanging Up My Heart” flows seamlessly into “Invitation To The Blues,” which swings into the opening with a fiddle and plucky bass line. It’s another light and breezy sounding song made for listening to on warm summer days, at a barbeque or in a car with the windows down. While the pleasant sound of the opening tracks on the album is initially wonderful, it could easily become repetitive—thankfully, Harris and Crowell have a few more tricks in their cowboy boots.
“Black Caffeine,” the sixth track, is one of the best (and refreshing) tracks on Old Yellow Moon. It’s a healthy dose of sexiness with a decided bite to it. The sparse opening of only Crowell’s acoustic guitar and Harris singing, “I like it black/Just black as night/It keeps me up/It keeps me tight,” is joined by killer electric guitar and piano riffs along with a catchy, pulsating drum beat. This is one of the best moments on the album because it is so dang cool, unapologetic and full of good ol’ country swagger. “Bull Rider” is another song with that same attitude, another fun track utilizing the fiddle.
There are several quiet pieces on the album: most notably the somewhat distracting “Spanish Dancer,” which lands with an awkward klunk on Old Yellow Moon after the two upbeat songs that kick off the album. It’s unclear as to why this song falters, as Harris’ morose vocals fit beautifully with Crowell’s guitar playing, which shines in this song, but it is out of place.
“Dreaming My Dreams” and “Back When We Were Beautiful” are both much more successful ballads, particularly “Back When We Were Beautiful,” which is a fleeting and thoughtful moment where the ages of Harris and Crowell creep into the music as Harris sings the heartbreaking opener, “I guess you had to be there.” Accompanied by a piano, it’s a melancholy, pensive story told from the point of view of an older woman reminiscing on lost love, one of the stronger tracks on the album.
The news of an official studio album release collaboration of Harris and Crowell will undoubtedly evoke high expectations from country and folk fans both old and new, and Old Yellow Moon is a solid release despite its few awkward moments. Harris and Crowell’s voices fit together like tiny country puzzle pieces to form a raw, no-frills sound that will leave most satisfied, maybe with some even wanting more. Although it’s far from perfect, Old Yellow Moon is a twangy country record that finds its authenticity in both the heart and technical skills of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell.