Dynamic Duos

by Andrew Elias

Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle
Colvin & Earle

Veteran troubadours, Colvin and Earle helped define what would become known as ‘Americana’ music. Both are among the most insightful poets of our times. She sings with a heartbreaking vulnerability and he sings with the urgency of a street prophet.

The album, produced by the maestro, Buddy Miller, features six co-written originals and a few choice covers, including a remarkable version of the Stones’ ‘Ruby Tuesday.’

Other highlights are the incendiary ‘You’re Right (I’m Wrong),’ the rousing ‘Come What May,’ and ‘Happy and Free,’ which is just good ol’ folksinging fun.

Petra Haden Sings Jesse Harris
Seemed Like A Good Idea

She is a brilliant violinist and an eclectic vocalist (she released an a cappella version of the classic early Who album, The Who Sell Out). He is an acclaimed singer and songwriter (co-writer of Norah Jones’ hit, ‘Don’t Know Why’).

Most songs here are written by Harris, marked by his clever confessional lyrics and jazzy pop sensibility, but it is the songs co-written with Haden, some shortly after the death of her father, the jazz icon Charlie Haden, that are the most affecting.

The loping ‘Either Way,’ the lilting ‘Fool’s Paradise,’ and their original take on Pete Seeger’s ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’ are standouts.

Clay Parker & Jodi James

Both established artists in the Baton Rouge music scene for years, Parker & James finally came together in 2014 to write twelve songs in two weeks, releasing their debut album a few months ago.

Their songs are smart and sincere, and they can write solemn and silly. Sounding somewhat like Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Parker & James have a similar stylistic and emotional range.

‘Come Back’ and ‘What It Knows’ are achingly beautiful pleas and ‘After the Smoke Clears’ is breathtakingly gorgeous, vocals and lyrics.

‘Showboatin’’ is bluesy vamp, ‘Meditation Blues’ is a bluegrassy vamp.

Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones
Little Windows

Teddy Thompson has been exploring vintage country music for years; his Upfront & Down Low featured respectful and refreshing covers of classics by the likes of George Jones, Ernest Tubb and Merle Haggard.

Just as Upfront showcased his passion for that golden musical era, with the help of Kelly Jones, Little Windows showcases his ability to write and record brand new songs that would fit comfortably in the country music era that followed, when pop music began to mix with the Nashville sound.

Original songs like ‘Better at Lying,’ ‘Wondering,’ I Thought That We Said Goodbye,’ You Can’t Call Me Baby,’ and ‘You Took My Future’ prove that a good singer with a good song can really toy with your emotions. Teddy Thompson can toy.

Goodbye Blue
Worth The Wait

Charlotte Kendrick and Dan Rowe had been making music for several years until their first child was born. Three kids and eight years, they returned to music with the release of Worth the Wait as Goodbye Blue. It has definitely been worth the wait.

The album opens with ‘Another One on the Way,’ possibly the greatest song about the small frustrations and great joys of having a family and a home. The rest of the album follows suit, with songs about ‘life.’

Kendrick’s knack for enlivening life’s mundanity with evocative details, as much as her beautiful voice, make songs like ‘So Hard Anymore,’ ‘It’s Complicated.’ and “Where Did I Go’ so touching.

The bliss of domesticity has never sounded so good.

Matthew Barber & Jill Barber
The Family Album

Canadian siblings with acclaimed solo careers of their own, Matthew & Jill have finally recorded together and the result is unsurprisingly excellent.

Although their own songs are strong, especially Jill’s ‘One True Love,’ their covers of songs by Bobby Charles (‘I Must Be in Good Place Now’), Ian Tyson (Summer Wages’), Neil Young (‘Comes a Time’), Leonard Cohen (‘The Partisan’), and Townes Van Zandt (‘If I Needed You’) are the standouts. You can never have too many versions of Townes’ classic love song.

The Barbers prove that great ‘Americana’ music is being made north of the border.

The Cactus Blossoms
You’re Dreaming

When I first heard these guys I thought they were the Everly Brothers. Everyone does. That’s a great compliment. It’s not just that brothers Jack Torrey & Page Burkum sing harmonies that sound so similarly natural and forlorn; it’s that they write songs that you can imagine Don & Phil singing. ‘Stoplight Kisses,’ ‘You’re Dreaming,’ and ‘If I Can’t Win’ are as romantic as any of the Everly’s gems. Even the shuffling ‘Mississippi’ and the rockabilly-ish ‘Clown Collector are worthy of the Everlys.

But You’re Dreaming is not nostalgic; it’s an excellent example of when artists transform their inspirations into music that then is inspirational itself, passing the music forward.

With this impressive debut, The Cactus Blossoms give notice that they are worth noticing.

Victor & Penny

Victor & Penny and their Loose Change Orchestra make music of the Kansas City swing variety. Victor and Penny are actually, Jeff Freling (former Blue Man Group member) and Erin McGrane (actress best known for her role in Up in The Air). With Erin playing ukulele and Jeff on guitar – and a clarinet and horns – they transform into a band with a sound infused as much with New Orleans as Paris.

There’s a smokey ballad (‘Overtones’) and bluesy romp (‘Penny’s Pounce’), as well as a number of gypsy-jazz tracks for swingin’ cats.

May-June 2016