Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell have enough fans between them to support their own tours, but the two singers brought their pipes and picking to Strathmore Music Center last Friday, March 29. The theater was filled by the drugstore cowboys of yesteryear. After the two stars traded a few songs, they settled into their collaborative album, “Old Yellow Sun,” released this February. The Georgetowner last caught up with Harris before her performance at Wolf Trap in August.
Harris’s roots in the area lead to an inexplicable amount of remembrances. “Remember country music?” “Cassette tapes? Remember those?” “I remember the 80s…” She was all about remembering things.
Being that the performance was on Good Friday, there seemed to be an added note of somberness to the performance. One of Harris’s guitar straps had the image of the Virgin Mary on it. “Spanish Dancer” and “Back When We Were Beautiful” were excellent but heart-wrenching. More upbeat songs like “Hanging Up My Heart” and “Black Caffeine” did not manage to level the mood. I guess that’s what they call the blues.
The contrast between the two singers was interesting: Harris being more timid, Crowell more seasoned towards country music. Crowell aptly described Harris as having the “soul of a poet, the voice of an angel and the heart of a cowgirl.”
For this reviewer, the highlight of their performance was Jedd Hughes, their lead guitarist. I admit it: I’m a sucker for guitar. Hughes knocked my socks off as he played on telecasters most of the night and switched to an acoustic for “Spanish Dancer.” Richard Thompson joined the group for one number.
Richard Thompson Electric Trio
Opening the evening was the Richard Thompson Electric Trio, which brought down the house as an opening act. Richard Thompson, one of the original members of the British rock group Fairport Convention, is touring for his newest album, “Electric,” which was released this February.
As with most virtuosic guitarists who are also vocalists, Thompson’s vocals and lyrics fill the space just fine, but the musicianship was the backbone of the group’s performance. The dense sound it produced as a trio is a tribute to the musicians’ ability and uncynical approach to it. Nearly every song received a standing ovation from the audience.
The trio showcased its abilities on Fender instruments. Thompson is a fan of Fender Stratocasters, and bassist Taras Prodaniuk played on a Precision Bass and used Fender amplifiers. Along with Strathmore’s exceptional micing, it made for a crispy sound which wouldn’t sound out of place in a Guitar Center.
Thompson’s Britishness came across with his subdued, cheeky humor and hints of New Wave. An audience commenting on Thompson’s Converse sneakers got a reply of, “You realize we’re in the middle of a concert?” “Good Things Happen To Bad People,”, a track from the “Electric” album, has rootsy, three-part harmonies. Hints of folk ballads are everywhere. Prodaniuk pulling out a fretless bass underlined a proggy, druidic feeling that turned Strathmore into Stonehenge.
The tour will be making its next stop today in Atlanta at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.