Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell didn't know there would be a follow-up to their Old Yellow Moon collaboration when they released it in 2013. But they say The Traveling Kind -- which they're previewing with Billboard via the Crowell/Larry Klein track "Bring It On Home To Memphis" below -- was a no-brainer even before Old Yellow Moon won a Grammy Award for best americana album.
"I think I knew (Old Yellow Moon) was going to be successful," Harris tells Billboard. "Rodney and I haven't broken any records as far as album sales, either one of us, but we have really loyal fans who have stuck with us over the years, allowing us to do what we want and what we love. There was never a question that there wouldn't be enough success to succeed, and it does help to have a record company (Nonesuch) that says, 'Why don't you go and do another one.'"
Nevertheless, Crowell chimes in, "the honeymoon's over. There was a lot of goodwill for (Old Yellow Moon), but I think it's human nature that now, being we're on a second record, I'm sure the goodwill is still there, but I don't think it would be the same kind of goodwill. It'll be, 'OK, they did that and here's another one.' It's not unique or surprising anymore. So hopefully the record we made is true enough to us that it goes on the merit of what it is more than the novelty of who we were at the time we did the first one."
Crowell had a specific goal for The Traveling Kind, which comes out May 12. While Old Yellow Moon was populated with covers, this time he wanted more originals -- and more originals with Harris' involvement. "I wanted to get Emmy's poetry involved in it," Crowell says. And teaming with writers such as Cory Chisel and Will Jennings, the duo did just that.
But, Harris concedes, it took a bit of arm-twisting.
"Rodney pulled me kicking and screaming into the writing room," says Harris, who employed Crowell in her Hot Band. "Rodney is the real writer; he's been writing for, God, well before I even met him. I'm more of a reluctant...I don't mean casual; when I set my mind to it, I'm pretty serious. But I've been an interpreter most of my career, and so I was a little nervous about going into the writing room, except it was Rodney and he's so supportive of me, and I knew he was right. I knew that it was like, 'OK, you've got to come up with something else. We can't just ride on our laurels.' We picked some great cover songs for the first record, but we ARE writers so it was important that we brought that aspect of who we are as artists into this record -- and kudos to Rodney for saying, 'Get yourself in there!'"
Of "Bring It On Home To Memphis," Crowell says "I wrote the song with Larry Klein about 23 years ago and I was looking for a way to do it. I played for Emmy and she really liked it." Crowell had previously recorded the composition, but "this time we discovered Emmy could do the real oration -- that's when it became a worthwhile song.” Harris adds, "It was my second time doing a recitation. The first was 'Jerusalem Tomorrow' from Cowgirls Prayer.”
Crowell calls Harris "a slow starter and a strong finisher, once you get her going. She always downplays her writing, and the truth his she's an excellent writer. It's kind of my favorite collaborations we've done yet, putting these songs together for this album."
As befits the title, The Traveling Kind is putting Harris and Crowell on the road, beginning May 7 in San Francisco and with dates booked into late May in the U.S. and in Australia during June. And they're both ready to entertain the idea of a third album, too.
"I'm ready. Put me in coach," Harris says, while Crowell ponders what direction they should take next time. "We made a record of songs we had known and had around a long time, and then we basically wrote most of this one ourselves," he explains. "So the next one..."
"Let's do a reggae record next, Rodney," Harris interjects. "Yeah," Crowell says, "we could do all our songs reggae. I remember won one of those TV shows we did 'Leaving Louisiana' reggae style, so that's not beyond the realm of possibility."