Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris
Bass Concert Hall, October 10 It was a night of songs and instruments. And voices -- the powerfully seasoned Linda Ronstadt and understated beauty of Southern songstress Emmylou Harris. Far from a new pairing, the two have worked together since Harris' 1975 album Exile Hotel, and their Austin appearance, in support of this year's Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions, was notable for at least three reasons: The duo performed Patty Griffin's "Falling Down" with Griffin in the audience; the performance was sold out; and it was the tour's last date. That last fact was both good and bad. While singers and band were obviously comfortable with the set list, they were also road-weary, both Ronstadt (who occasionally appeared to use a TelePrompTer) and Harris apologizing for flub-ups. Even then, such slight transgressions only served to break down the barriers between band and crowd, a mix of cut-off shirts and tattoos, hippies, gut-busted baby boomers, and plain ol' music fans. Backed by a very flexible five-piece led by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Buddy Miller, Ronstadt and Harris began with Andy Prieboy's "Loving the Highwayman," which opens Western Wall. Having both forged careers out of interpreting other people's songs, the two frontwomen demonstrated that they sure knew how to pick 'em: Leonard Cohen, Townes Van Zandt, Jackson Browne, Randy Newman, Sinead O'Connor, A.P. Carter, and Bill Monroe. Highlights included John Hiatt's "Icy Blue Heart," promptly followed by the Harley Allen-penned "High Sierra" from their recently released second collaboration with Dolly Parton, Trio II. Parton's shoes were respectably filled by Ronstadt's niece, Mindy Ronstadt Gordon, who added even more harmony throughout the evening. In addition to these singers' sheer talent, the accompanying band of veteran sidemen also shone: the aforementioned string specialist Miller, Paul McCartney sideman Wix, slide and pedal steel master Greg Leisz, former Eagle and Flying Burrito Brother Bernie Leadon, and drummer and guitarist Evan Johns. Halfway through the first of two sets, Ronstadt belted out her soft-rock classic "Blue Bayou." Normally, this would have transported listeners into a smoke-filled Seventies conversion van, but Ronstadt updated the tune by singing the last verse in Spanish and ending on a potent high note. Harris then completely changed gears with the thought-provoking "1917." Two tunes later came Gillian Welch's "Orphan Girl," from Harris' nearly perfect 1995 release, Wrecking Ball. Then "Sweetspot," a tune Harris penned with Luscious Jackson's Jill Cunniff, Ronstadt on Roseanne Cash's "Western Wall," and the list goes on, 30 songs in all. If the crowd had their druthers, there would have been more. But that was it. End of the set, show, and tour. A success.