Emmylou Harris
and Rodney Crowell practically defined the post-hippie Southern California country sounds of the '70s and '80s. Crowell was the songwriting rhythm guitarist/harmony singer in Harris’ Hot Band—Emmylou to Harris’ Gram Parsons, so to speak. Harris found herself regarded as the queen of progressive honky-tonk. Today they are Grammy-nominated for the Americana Album and Americana Song of the Year for The Travelling Kind and its title track.

A long way from Laurel Canyon, the pair spent decades focusing on solo careers before reconnecting on 2013’s Old Yellow Moon.

At this stage of your career and partnership, what’s driving your partnership?
RC: Honestly? Gratitude. After all this time, we still have an audience. In modern speak ‘gratitude’ sounds kind of new age, but honestly, people still want us to make records? That’s an award in itself, and Emmy and I take that seriously.

A Grammy nomination is pretty cool.
RC: Absolutely. It’s not the reason to do it. If Emmy and I had any idea of making anything for an end result, like an award, we’d be sunk before we sailed. In some ways, at this stage, there’s less to prove, but that means there’s actually more to prove because it needs to mean something, to measure up. Thirty years ago, it was ‘I’m here to do this. Take my picture and hope I look good.’ Emmy still looks good, I’m OK. But it’s not about the picture now, it’s the content of the music. We don’t want to play the oldies game, to coast on what we’ve done, so it’s that much more critical. Nostalgia isn’t relevant artistically, so this means we’re moving forward.

Talk about the nominated song, “The Travelling Kind.”
RC: We wrote it with Cory Chisel. That song started being about Ben Bullington, a songwriter friend who died. And it was about Gram and Susanna [Clark], Townes [Van Zant] and Bee Spears [Willie Nelson’s bass player], all these poet artists who’ve died—and the ones who’ve not arrived yet. It talks about that spirit those artists live in, and that grace.

Americana is what critics seem to call country. Do you get that sense?
RC: Absolutely. It’s far more country than the commercial music coming out of Nashville if you’re talking about Porter Wagoner, Conway Twitty, Hank Williams and the tonality that came out of the Grand Ole Opry. That is what country music was built on. Music evolves. Far be it for me to disparage any kind of music. Rosanne Cash and I were sort of responsible for the deconstruction of country music in the '70s and '80s, so we can’t point fingers. Radio is selling advertising and a product. Today’s commercial music is pop, and everybody knows it. They shouldn’t be ashamed; it’s not a slight. Pop-country is smart business, it really is—it syncs up to what radio is selling.

Guy Clark and Townes, all those Americana artists? The audience is really smart—and we work to that. So, since we’re not artists whose next release is so much a part of the company’s bottom line, for us—and for that smart audience—it needs to be something artistic.