While discussing favorite music choices with a colleague, she mentioned to me that college seemed to be the time that people came to enjoy listening to country music. That may be the case for some people, but Old Yellow Moon does not require the listener to have a particular background or affection for country music.
The latest album from veteran artists Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris is not bound to receive much commercial appeal. That being said, it has the power to be one of the best country albums of the year. And while it is more neo-traditionalist than other recent sets by Harris (see Hard Bargain, All The Roadrunning), it is not offensive, even to non-country listeners.
Despite promotional appearances including The Late Show with David Letterman, radio is unlikely to embrace any of the singles from this album. Harris has not been relevant on the music scene since the late 1980s, due in a large part to her decision to record on an indie label. Likewise, Crowell’s popularity faded to disappointing results after his landmark album, Diamonds & Dirt.
Country music, however, has seen a revival on a national scale in the past few years. With Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum and the Zac Brown Band receiving high-profile recognition at the Grammys, modern day country music has received critical acclaim and immense record sales. Even Adele cited country influences on her record-breaking album 21.
Most radio-friendly country music has become diluted by over-production and is marked by a lack of creativity. Top selling singles and albums frequently receive poor critical acclaim. Female singers almost disappeared entirely until the advent of Carrie Underwood and Swift.
Like other present day music, country suffers from a homogeneity that suffocates the listener with a mass of generic sounding male singers and thin voiced female singers, generally singing off-key.
Harris comes from an older generation.
But she deserves to be relevant. She has embraced a type of folk-rock on her previous albums, including Hard Bargain. Harris’s decision to team up with Crowell, an original member of her classic Hot Band, shows a return to these folk-rock origins.
If you want to stop reading because you think this is just your normal, watered down country music album, don’t. Harris is not your normal, watered down country music artist.
Harris was selected to sing Paul McCartney’s “For No One” at his Gershwin Awards Ceremony. She has been one of the most sought after artists to collaborate with for many years, and she holds 12 Grammys in her name.
Nothing has changed with this most recent album. Although her voice has changed – it has become more worn throughout the decades – her work still receives praise. USA Today named Old Yellow Moon it’s album of the week and it presently ranks as the number one album on Amazon’s “Today’s Country” Best Sellers list, above Swift, Tim McGraw and Underwood’s latest releases.
Although it is a duet album, it’s hard to consider this as anything but a classic Harris album. The Old Yellow Moon opens with the up-tempo track “Hanging Up My Heart” which features a near perfect harmony that blends both voices.
The album continues to include a cover of the classic song, “Dreaming My Dreams,” which will not disappoint. It also features the rather good “Open Season on My Heart.”
One sore spot is the slightly rewritten recording of “Bluebird Wine,” a Crowell original recorded first on the aforementioned album Pieces of the Sky. This recording moves the song in a rock direction that, while complimenting both voices, is less effective than the original and detracts from the country vibes of the album overall.
The best song on the album is undoubtedly their version of “Back When We Were Beautiful,” no doubt embodied well through the weathered voices of two old singers. The song is a cover of the incredibly poetic lyrics written by Matraca Berg, one of the elite Nashville songwriters of the 1990s.
The album closes with the tranquil, pensive and slow-paced ballad, “Old Yellow Moon.” It offers a reflective look back on both the album itself and the careers and lives of both of the artists.
Overall, Old Yellow Moon is more than a pleasant listen. It defies the stereotypes and offers insight into what a true country music album should look like. It offers themes that typify the genre without sounding stale or cliché, a feat that most modern artists find themselves unable to match.
If you’ve never listened to country before or have found that you don’t enjoy it, this album might be worth trying. Harris transcends genres, and Crowell finds a way to be both melodic and mundane. Sadly, country radio’s biggest folly will be turning its back on the music that built it.