Emmylou Harris, shown during Friday's MusiCares tribute to Bruce… (Chris Pizzello / Associated…)
The phrase “and friends” rises to a whole new level when it’s attached to the names of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, who turned their joint appearance Saturday night at the Troubadour into an all-star Grammy Awards eve celebration of the overlapping worlds of Americana music, traditional folk and progressive country.
“We’re going to win a Grammy just for this night,” Crowell said with a broad smile midway through the show at which he and longtime friend and connoisseur of great songwriting, Harris, were joined by Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt, the Zac Brown Band, J.D. Souther, Damien Rice, Joan Osborne, Shannon McNally, John Fullbright and Shawn Camp.
The congenial blend of veterans and newcomers reveled in the service of great songwriting over empty showmanship, trading songs and the spotlight roundtable-style a la Nashville’s famous sessions at the Bluebird Cafe.
The tone was set by Harris and Crowell, who started the evening not with any of their signature numbers but two songs from their new album, “Old Yellow Moon,” which won’t even be released for another two weeks. Harris took the lead on Hank DeVito’s “Hanging Up My Heart” and Crowell led Roger Miller’s “Invitation to the Blues,” which Crowell described as “ about as close as country music will ever get to Howlin’ Wolf.”
Other guests followed suit, offering a song, sometimes two, and then returning the focus to the evening’s host.
First-time Grammy nominee John Fullbright bypassed the opportunity to showcase anything from his Americana-category nominated album, “From the Ground Up,” instead offering a still-untitled new song that had Harris and Crowell watching and listening intently as he sang of the creeping realization of what real love means: “I didn’t know about silence / Until you were gone” the 24-year-old singer-songwriter from Okemah, Okla., sang in his dry drawl.
Raitt, whose nominated with Fullbright in the Americana category this year for her “Slipstream” album, and Harris engaged in a mutual admiration society, Raitt singing Richard Thompson’s oft-covered “Dimming Of the Day” and then her hit version of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.”
When the show culminated with Harris’ introduction of folk queen Baez as “the reason I’m a singer,” Baez demonstrated her own penchant for songs that matter by sharing Steve Earle’s “God is God” before serving up her own 1973 hit “Diamonds and Rust.”
“There’s enough soul on this stage tonight,” Baez said with a smile at one point, “to be an antidote to the entire Grammys.”
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