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Music review: Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Hammersmith Apollo, London


“Where’s the stools?” A fair question for a 66-year-old singer to ask after playing for an hour, though Emmylou Harris has confused her dates. Tonight, we are being treated to an epic performance that has yet to reach its half-way point. Instead, she and long-term collaborator Rodney Crowell leave for a hard-earned interval.

A country queen who has released 25 albums and sung with everyone from Dolly Parton to Mumford and Sons, Harris could reside here for a week and not play the same number twice, even without Crowell. We should then be in for a non-stop selection of gems, aided by the man that helped forge her solo career in the mid-seventies. The rangy Crowell brought some of Harris’s best loved tunes and played in her Hot Band before breaking into country’s mainstream during the eighties.

Their duet album, Old Yellow Moon, is another strong recording from an established star enjoying a fruitful late phase. The silver-haired Harris is relaxed both sharing the limelight and delving back into the formative years of her musical life, notably while singing with country rock pioneer Gram Parsons. Yet she cannot help but out-dazzle Crowell, who hides under a wide-brimmed black hat. He provides just enough grizzled weariness to match her pure, slightly husky tones, though his parched, underpowered delivery lacks the passion their tales of woe demand. A take on Harris and Parsons’ classic duet ‘Love Hurts’ sounds lop-sided, leaving more stripped-back settings for his well-crafted lyrics to shine.

Harris provides much of the variety that prevents their two and a half hours from dragging.as she imbues "Tulsa Queen" with chilling sense of loss, fills "Dreaming My Dreams" with wounded proud and nails the understated pathos of the ballad "Pancho and Lefty". Only at the end of a low-key first set do they finally cut loose on the racing honky-tonk of "Luxury Liner", aided by an effusive solo from Australian guitarist Jedd Hughes, part of an oddly-matched five-piece band.

They return with enough vim to tackle Kris Kristofferson’s addiction warning "Chase The Feeling" from the pair’s current album, though the most moving moments come when they acknowledge their maturity and fallen comrades, as with Harris’s touching solo farewell to Kate McGarrigle and the lament for lost youth, "Back When We Were Beautiful". You can’t go back, they say, though with care, you can have fun trying.