A former jillaroo who ditched her cowboy hat when she made the switch to being a full-time musician, Harmony James has retained a real earthiness in her music and a knack for heartfelt, straightforward storytelling. On older songs like ’30,000’ she does a nice line in travelling songs while ‘Skinny Flat White’ is a well observed slice of life. Obviously stoked to be part of this tour, she proved a good choice for support act, not least because her setlist includes a song touching on the influence of tonight’s headliner, ‘Emmylou’s Guitar’.
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell may be icons in their field, but there’s a likably low-key tone to tonight’s set, with both chatty and relaxed throughout. Their creative partnership has been a productive period in terms of songwriting, but they both remain first rate song interpreters and begins with Gram Parsons’ ‘The Return of the Grievous Angel’ which sets the tone for the night; classic country delivered with attention to detail and an obvious reverence for the source material.
Further covers include the Townes Van Zandt classic ‘Pancho and Lefty’ and Lucinda Williams’ aching ‘I Just Wanted to See You So Bad’, where the interplay between Crowell’s earthy croon and Harris’ ethereal lilt make it arguably better than the original. Perhaps the real jewel though is ‘Love Hurts’, originally a hit for the Everly Brothers. In Harris and Crowell’s capable hands, it’s an affecting slice of yearning with heavenly harmonies underscoring its message of consolation.
‘Bring it on Home to Memphis’ and the autobiographical ‘Red Dirt Girl’ continued the mellow mood, while ‘Back When We Were Beautiful’, a skeletal lullaby in recorded form, was more fleshed out with upright bass, lap steel and tasteful guitar from Australian Jedd Hughes adding to the harmonies without threatening to overwhelm them.
The crowd was appreciative throughout and coaxed the band back on stage for a hushed version of Crowell’s evergreen ‘Stars on the Water’ before bringing Harmony James back onstage for the closing ‘Boulder to Birmingham’. Despite the huge room, it felt intimate and relaxed, a chance to see two of country’s most fabled names in laidback mode.