Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell each have storied musical careers of their own. They’re legendary songwriters and singers in country music, who have been friends for 41 years. Crowell was a member of Harris’ backing band at one point, and the two wrote songs together for many years. It wasn’t until 2012 that the pair went into the studio together to record a duet album. The result of their efforts was 2013’s Old Yellow Moon which earned them the Grammy Award for Best Americana Album in 2014. The pair is back together with a follow-up album called The Traveling Kind. With this effort, however, Crowell and Harris put forth more original songs, with at least one of them having a hand in writing nine of the 11 songs.
The title track opens up the album with a brilliant lyric: “we don’t all die young to save our spark from the ravages of time.” In fact, on my first listen of the album I restarted the song three times before finishing it once just to hear that line again. Harris and Crowell capture your attention with their harmonized voices right away as they continue with the story of how some people are born to journey and explore during their life. This is followed by the undeniably country song “No Memories Hanging Round.” This is a song about relationships ending, and in sticking with their ages. Harris and Crowell sing of old hearts left weary and unable to love again. The instrumentation in this song is fantastic.
“Bring It On Home to Memphis” is a song Rodney Crowell had in his pocket for a while and was simply waiting for right time to get it recorded. A song that references Lucinda Williams and W.C. Handy, “Bring It On Home to Memphis” is a call to come back to Tennessee from the hustle and bustle of the big cities. Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell explore heartbreak again in “You Can’t Say We Didn’t Try.” In this relationship, the couples are waiting for and trying to avoid the inevitable end. While they lament over saying goodbye, they know they did their best to try to make it work. “The Weight of the World” has more rock influence in its production, but it’s a great sounding guitar lick underneath Crowell’s vocals. The lyrics deal are a little politically charged and could be viewed as a criticism of how industry and the lust for money has people more focused on achieving those goals and careless over the environmental effects of their actions.
“Higher Mountains” is a slow tempo ballad where Emmylou Harris sings to a lost loved one. The piano and guitars combine to create a dream-like atmosphere around the song as Harris wishes just to see the face of that lost one again. But for the time being, they are separated between high mountains and longer rivers, a journey she’d only make if that person was waiting at the end. Harris and Crowell referenced Lucinda Williams earlier in the album, and now the duo cover one of her songs. I think this cover of “I Just Wanted to See You so Bad” is well done, and singing it in unison, the pair sound great and add a new layer to the story that fits well.
“Just Pleasing You” is a re-recording of Rodney Crowell’s song with Vince Gill. This is a slower country song with excellent steel guitar play. The song finds Crowell falling in love and being happy after years of bad choices and broken promises. The duo pick it up on “If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Now.” The pair sing in unison about a rotten marriage. As you can probably derive from the title, one of the partners is always out of the house, possibly drunk and cheating. All the while, the other wonders if they should pull the plug on this marriage.
“Her Hair Was Red” is an acoustic song where Emmylou Harris sings of remembering her grandmother. A red-head with blue eyes, Harris journeys to places where her grandmother had milestone moments in life and recounts stories to the listener. The Traveling Kind ends with the cajun dance song “La Danse de la Joie” which translates to the dance of joy. This is a song celebrating friendship, a fitting theme for a friendship these two have. With french phrases meaning “good friends” and “good times” Harris and Crowell use dance as a way to celebrate and enjoy their company. I couldn’t think of a better song to end the album.
The Traveling Kind is a great followup of the duo’s first, award-winning, album. Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell both have ample moments on the album where they shine individually. But it’s when they’re together, singing a duet or singing in unison where the album rises above and makes a mark on the listener. They’re seasoned artists and songwriters that time has been good to. In a year of many great country and Americana releases, this has sort of flown under the radar since its May release, but The Traveling Kind shouldn’t be ignored. Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell continue to deliver great music together.