Colvin & Earle: Colvin & Earle

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Colvin & Earle
Colvin & Earle
(Fantasy)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Take two of our most revered contemporary folk/country veterans in Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle, add production by Buddy Miller and his friends, get the singing/songwriting duo to pen some new material and dig up a handful of cool covers then record the results in two quick weeks at Miller’s Nashville home.  If this sounds like a formula for a low key, easy rolling set that feels as if it’s all happening on your front porch, you’ve hit on the recipe that makes this such an alluring, attractive pairing.

Colvin and Earle had already toured together so the chemistry was intact when they approached recording. The twosome’s rootsy, predominantly acoustic vibe is exemplified on their cover of the classic “Tobacco Road” (first brought to commercial recognition through a raucous version from the deceptive named UK act the Nashville Teens) where they share vocals with chilling, entrancing results. Guitarist Richard Bennett (who tellingly played on Earle’s 1986 major label debut Guitar Town) and bassist Chris Wood (the Wood Brothers) provide subtle backing that pulses behind the singers without overwhelming the sumptuous harmonies at the heart of this music.

Lyrically the biting, driving pull and melancholy words of “You’re Right (I’m Wrong)” at least partially address Earle’s many broken marriages in a way that’s not damning to either party as Colvin adds a female perspective to balance out the equation. The pair goes biblical on the gospel strains of “Tell Moses” and delves into pure folk for the cautionary, mandolin driven “Happy & Free.” Emmylou Harris is generally better known for her versions of others’ songs but she wrote a keeper in “Raise the Dead” and the lyrics “I’ll never get out of your love alive” have never sounded more powerful than with Earle and Colvin sharing lead vocals on it with help from a particularly driving Earle harp solo. Covers of the Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” and “You Were on My Mind” popularized by We Five won’t make you forget the originals but work beautifully here, adding a sense of familiarity to the proceedings.

The closing ballad “You’re Still Gone” takes lyrics from Buddy’s wife Julie and spins them into a new melody that’s a dreamy and poignant remembrance of a lost love (“and I can hear you laughing now/but you’re still gone”) ending this debut collaboration on a bittersweet note. At just over 30 minutes, it’s over pretty quickly so let’s hope this is just the beginning of a fruitful musical relationship.

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