Call it a savvy late-career move executed brilliantly.
That’s what the concert featuring Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, friends since 1974, seemed like Tuesday night at the State Theatre in Minneapolis.
After discussing doing a duets album for decades, the former country stars-turned-Americana heroes finally recorded “Old Yellow Moon” in 2013 and earned a Grammy for it. They followed it with this year’s “The Traveling Kind” and now have mounted their first duo tour.
Surprisingly, though, instead of showcasing only material from their two collaborative albums, Harris and Crowell turned the nearly two-hour, 25-song concert into career retrospectives intertwined with a handful of their duets. The result was a double-scoop treat with a cherry on top.
Harris, 68, showed more verve and was in better voice than in her most recent Twin Cities appearance at the Minnesota Zoo in 2012 (though her voice wasn’t loud enough on the first few selections). And Crowell, 65, was on top of his game but, since he was sharing the stage, didn’t have to carry the show. Both singers benefited from the duo format.
And so did the fans. They got to hear duets that Harris did early in her career with country-rock god Gram Parsons, including “Love Hurts” and “Return of the Grievous Angel,” the night’s penetrating finale.
The 13-time Grammy winner also offered a healthy serving of her 1970s country favorites including “Boulder to Birmingham,” “Bluebird Wine” and “Luxury Liner” as well as the more recent “Red Dirt Road,” which acknowledged her exploration of atmospheric music.
As she explained early in the evening, Harris has been singing Crowell tunes since her 1975 Reprise Records solo debut and he was a member of her Hot Band in the ‘70s.
The fans were also rewarded with some of Crowell’s country classics, including the gracefully arranged and emotional “Til I Gain Control Again,” the rockin’ “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” the feisty “I Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This” with its extended guitar jam and “Stars on the Water,” during which Harris became a sashaying fool.
Curiously, neither Crowell nor Harris emphasized their biggest hits but rather some of the best material in their repertoires.
In between their solo spotlights, the two singers did their duets, the most outstanding of which was Matraca Berg’s wistful “Back When We Were Beautiful.”
Throughout the program, Harris and Crowell supported each other vocally. Some numbers were true duets, others just featured them on harmony. All the songs featured the duo’s hot band, with Aussie guitarist Jedd Hughes standing out.
Here is the set list:
I Just Wanted To See You So Bad/ Wheels/ Pancho and Lefty/ Ooh Las Vegas/ Love Hurts/ Til I Gain Control Again/ I’ll Be Your San Antone Rose/ Invitation to the Blues/ Red Dirt Girl/ The Rock of My Soul/ Boulder to Birmingham/ Bluebird Wine/ Luxury Liner/ The Traveling Kind/ Bring It on Home to Memphis/ The Weight of the World/ Back When We Were Beautiful/ Dreaming My Dreams/ Tulsa Queen/ Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight/ I Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This/ Old Yellow Moon ENCORE Stars on the Water/ Even Cowgirls Get the Blues/ Return of the Grievous Angel