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Harris, Crowell, Thompson satisfy, but...

Orpheum Theatre, Boston, March 23, 2013

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

The pairing of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell would seem like a match made in country heaven. After all, both have enjoyed long, highly commendable careers in country with some commercial success. Crowell played in Harris' Hot Band about 30-plus years ago as well, resulting in longstanding ties between the two.

Finally after all this time as Harris pointed out, the two finally recorded an album, "Old Yellow Moon," out last month and are now on the road together.

The truth was that this seemed more like Harris's gig with Crowell helping out a chunk, but he played second fiddle in various aspects from taking center stage to stage banter. In some respects, he almost hid behind his black fedora.

While a generally satisfying show in an evening that got better as it went along, the main problem was that Crowell and Harris did not make the best of duet partners. For the most part, their voices did not mesh particularly well, and at times, it was even hard to hear Crowell's voice or the words to his songs, unlike Harris.

Harris was a one-woman PR team for her partner on this evening, praising him from the time he gave her a demo cassette of Bluebird Wine which they would later perform on this evening, decades ago. But there was not a tremendous amount of obvious chemistry between the two or overt warmth on this night.

Harris and Crowell were on stage the entire time with each having stints on lead vocals and sometimes backing the other up. Starting with Return of the Grievous Angel by Harris, the two teamed for a good reading of Gram Parsons' Wheels before Harris proved particularly satisfying on Townes Van Zandt's Pancho and Lefty. Her voice has been described as an angelic, and once again, it was easy to see why although she didn't quite hit the high notes of yesteryear.

They eventually tackled the new disc, including an excellent take of the beautiful ballad Dreaming My Dreams and Harris' most tender reading of Matraca Berg's Back When We Were Beautiful.

The backing band was superb. Chief among them was Australian guitarist Jedd Hughes, who never fails to show his skills. Hughes could go twangy, bluesy, a tad swampy while throwing some slide guitar in as well. His playing often punctuated the songs. The other key player was former Hot Band member Steve Fishell, mainly on pedal steel, but also Dobro. Like Hughes, he helped fill the song gaps time and again. Byron House on upright bass and electric worked well with drummer Jerry Roe.

For only doing six gigs together over the past 10 days, they did their job quite well.

Opening act Richard Thompson came out on guitar and backing vocals for a cover of Waylon Jennings' I Ain't Living Long Like This, one of the highlights of the night with an extended interplay between Hughes and Thompson. The song probably should have closed out the regular set because this was perhaps the high note of the night due to the playing, singing and vibe.

Thompson was stellar for the 20 minutes caught of his 65-minute set. His voice retains its vibrancy, and he clicked quite well with his two baking band mates. - drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk He easily glided from to an extended take of Tear Stained Letter. Thompson, 63, has aged quite well as evidence by his new disc, "Electric," and this night of music.

The combination of Thompson, Harris and Crowell did not quite live up to the sum of its parts, satisfying for the most part, but not the hoped for magical night of a tour decades in the making.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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