Photo Credit: countryhq.com.au
Country music fans will get a sweet deal this Wednesday when Rodney Crowell comes to town to perform with special guest/modern day, honky-tonk chanteuse Shannon McNally AND Steuart Smith (Eagles fame) at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis.
Crowell is the prolific, Grammy-winning songwriter who learned the tools of his well-worn trade alongside a young Steve Earle at Guy and Susanna Clark’s bustling Nashville home in the mid-1970s (immortalized in the historic documentary, “Heartworn Highways”).
He paired up with Emmy Lou Harris for 2013’s emotive “Old Yellow Moon,” earning them each a Grammy and Americana Music Award for Best Americana Album, and on April 15th this year, he unleashed “Tarpaper Sky,” an instant classic featuring the same band lineup that helped make his 1988 release, “Diamonds and Dust,” one of the darlings of the denim-and-rhinestone decade.
Now, 40 years into his career, Crowell is a respected master of the country genre, and maintains his strong yet sensitive storytelling tact that first caught the eye of Tennessee’s finest, while assuming the role of mentor and legend to a new generation of country artists and roots rockers – like Shannon McNally.
McNally spent the first ten years of her career supporting big name acts like Ryan Adams, Stevie Nicks, John Mellencamp, and Son Volt, consistently releasing albums featuring both original songs and covers sung with sultry saccharinity. At the 2007 Jazz Fest in New Orleans, she sat in for an absent Bobby Charles and played with Dr. John (Mac Rebennack), proposing a special project to the sagacious “night tripper” – one that he would not pass up.
Together, Mac and McNally worked with Bobby Charles and New Orleans’ own “Creole Beethoven,” (aka Wardell Quezergue) to rework and record a selection of Charles’ most influential songs. The result is 2013’s “Small Town Talk,” a tribute to Charles’ self-titled 1972 album, originally recorded with The Band in Woodstock. Charles passed away in 2010 before the completion of the album, but his spirit lives on for at least another generation thanks to McNally’s devotion and Dr. John’s generosity.
In a previous interview on her website, McNally said of her experience: “I was over the moon about working with Mac, just walking on air. That piano sound…that classic approach…the level of authority that he brings to a song. Add to that the history of these songs, and the sessions just felt magical. I couldn’t have been happier or more excited to get to do this.”
“Mac brought Wardell in at the end to do the strings and horns. He was 80 years old, had been in New Orleans his whole life. There was nothing he didn’t know about music. That he respected me as a vocalist cemented something for me inside”.
In the same way that Crowell’s aspirations as an artist were affirmed and supported by the Clark’s in the 70s, McNally’s talents and influences led her to find her own mentors in the form of Bobby Charles and Dr. John.
Both Crowell and McNally owe a measure of their good fortune to strong alliances, but more importantly than that, they seem to understand the golden rule of the biz – it’s all about who you know, and adaptable artists who work well with others are usually the most long-lived and loved in the music industry.
To see two such performers together on stage will surely be a treat. I can only hope that McNally will take over the role of Emmy Lou for a few “Old Yellow Moon” duets. Be sure not to miss it! Tickets are still on sale at www.ramsheadonstage.com. This is a 21 and over event. Doors open at 7:00 p.m., and the show starts at 8:00 p.m.
Check out the video for Rodney Crowell’s new song, “Fever on the Bayou.”
– Matt Ellis