This was a long time coming; given its relaxed execution, one wonders what took so long. Old Yellow Moon is an album of duets between Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. He was a rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist in her Hot Band in the mid-'70s. After he left, he continued contributing songs to her recordings for nearly two decades. This marks a reunion of more than just Harris and Crowell. Brian Ahern, who produced her early Warner recordings helms these sessions with Hot Band members James Burton, John Ware, and Bill Payne making appearances, as well as heavy hitters Vince Gill, Stuart Duncan, and Steuart Smith, to name a few. Though recorded in Nashville, the sound of this recording is posited somewhere between the Southern California country sound of the early '70s and some of Music City's more adventurous sounds in the middle and late years of that decade. The song choices are as eclectic as one would expect. Some of the set's highlights include a smokin' redo of "Bluebird Wine," which appeared as the opening cut on Harris' classic Pieces of the Sky album. This version has some fine-tuned lyrics in the first two verses – Crowell was only 21 when he wrote it. The readings of Roger Miller's "Invitation to the Blues" and Allen Reynolds' "Dreaming My Dreams" are beautifully executed standards. There are three excellent cuts here by Hank DeVito, another original member of the Hot Band. They include the midtempo, hard country opener "Hanging Up My Heart," the bluesy "Black Caffeine," and the title cut, a lilting waltz that closes the record. Crowell also contributed "Open Season on My Heart" (originally recorded by Tim McGraw), the languid pedal steel honky tonk ballad "Here We Are," and the back porch "Bull Rider." Kris Kristofferson's "Chase the Feeling" is given a rumbling, punchy, country-rock treatment here. Harris largely goes it alone on Patti Scialfa's "Spanish Dancer," in a radically different reading than the songwriter's, but Gill's gut string guitar, Jim Hoke's spare accordion, and Crowell's hushed harmony on the chorus offer a more picaresque take. The only misstep here should have been a natural: Matraca Berg's wonderful "Back When We Were Beautiful," recorded by the songwriter in 1997, feels forced; it lacks the stark drama of the original, replacing it instead it with a nostalgia that isn't true to the song. While this doesn't carry the weight of an "historic" recording, it is thoroughly enjoyable. Harris is in better voice than she's been in years and Crowell is a natural as a duet partner. Let's hope they consider Old Yellow Moon more than just a one-off, "bucket list" album.
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