In 2004, Tim McGraw released Live Like You Were Dying. It was, as he and his label surely anticipated, another smash hit: four million copies sold, number one on both the Billboard 200 album chart and the country album chart, and with number-one country singles. Contemporary Nashville country not being my thing, either today or in 2004, it completely passed me by.
That being the case, I didn’t hear McGraw’s recording of Open Season on My Heart, written by Rodney Crowell and James T Slater. The version I came to hear (quite recently, not upon its release) was the one Crowell recorded with Emmylou Harris for their 2013 duets album Old Yellow Moon.
Crowell and Harris have been working together essentially for as long as either of them have been working. Crowell’s Bluebird Wine is the first track on Pieces of the Sky, Harris’s first solo album as a country singer (she released a folk album in 1969 that she subsequently disowned), and he played guitar in her backing group, the Hot Band, for years, appearing on most of her 1970s and 1980s albums and contributing songs to the bulk of them, too. She’s indelibly associated with Gram Parsons, of course, but the partnerships Harris has had with Crowell and her long-time producer Brian Ahern (to whom she was married from 1977 to 1984, and who produced Old Yellow Moon) are the absolute backbone of her solo career.
Old Yellow Moon is a treat for any fan of either artist, and Crowell and Harris still sound great together. The toll that age is taking on their voices (Ahern appears to have compensated a little with Auto-Tune; it’s only occasionally distracting though) just makes the sound of them singing together more emotionally resonant and powerful, especially on their reading of Open Season on My Heart, which is lower register than, say, their cover of Roger Miller’s Invitation to the Blues, and required less sweetening.
Open Season on My Heart is a beautiful song. It’s built on the simplest, instantly recognisable changes – even the non-tonic move from D major to E major towards the end of the verse sequence is one you’ve heard hundreds of times – with a tune that retains the same shape over every chord, the melody just moving enough to acknowledge the change beneath. It’s the kind of tune that you memorise the instant you hear it; indeed, it’s the kind of tune that dares you to bring to mind where you’ve heard it before, so classic and comfortingly familiar does it sound.
Crowell sings the bulk of the song, with Harris getting harmonies in the second verse and the bridges, but she has one verse to herself after the solo. Personally, I think Crowell should have sung lead throughout, as the lyric doesn’t sound like a dual-perspective thing to me, or they should have alternated verses, as one verse from Harris isn’t enough to establish two narrators, so to speak, within the song. It hardly mars it though. It’s still a lovely piece of work, with absolutely top notch playing from everyone involved, which on this song includes Toto’s David Hungate on bass, Crowell and Ahern on acoustic guitar, Tommy Spurlock on steel, and Little Feat’s Bill Payne on piano and B3.
Melanie Crew and I have just released our first joint EP! Here it is, if you’d like to have a listen: