Sunday, January 25, 2009

Duets: All God's Angels

Kate Rusby w/ Tim O'Brien: All God's Angels


One of my favorite duets of the dialogic subtype, from two powerful musicians known for pushing the boundaries of modern folk while staying true to their own national traditions.

The song, which appeared on Kate Rusby's 1999 sophomore release Sleepless, is timeless and traditional; you'd be excused if you thought, at first, that this was one of the old ballads of her native british isles. That Rusby and O'Brien together can craft and deliver such powerful lyrics and such a simple, tangible melody is a testament to their own expertise, and the power of the duet itself. But though the words and music are ageless, the duet arrangement of All God's Angels is what gives it its power, with each voice trading off verses only to come together for the final few lines in harmony.

By then, of course, both characters -- the pregnant adulteress longing for stability and a father for her unborn child, and the adulterer who loves and admires his wife too much to leave her for a temporary fling -- have established their own sort of nobility, no less potent for their simple, acoustic delivery. The combination of these voices for such a fleeting moment, like the too-human act which brought them to the story in the first place, collapses so much distance, and acknowledges so much complexity in the human condition. The last thirty seconds of this song still give me chills after a hundred repetitions.

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