Saturday, January 31, 2009

Duets: Two Of Us

The Beatles: Two Of Us


Two Of Us is from The Beatles' 1970 release, Let It Be, whose recording was documented by film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, all while the band was going through the throes of break-up.

The movie can be painful to watch at times - the palpable tension of the tired and worn out group comes through loud and clear on the screen, but it does set up a nice moment where Paul McCartney and John Lennon share a duet on Two Of Us. McCartney had wrote it for his wife, Linda, but when he sang it with Lennon, it took on new meaning as an endearing gesture of affection from Paul to John, with lines like,"You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead." The Phil Spector-produced version starts with Lennon shouting, "'I Dig a Pygmy', by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf Aids... Phase One, in which Doris gets her oats" - the "deaf aids" was the nickname given to The Beatles' Vox amplifiers.

Now, because we here at Star Maker Machine love you readers so much, I've also included the demo version - enjoy!

The Beatles: Two Of Us - Demo

Duets: The Eleventh Hour Edition

First of all, let me say that I adore this week's theme, as I've always been a harmony voyeur - there's just something about two voices saying so much more than one could, lyrically and sonically. To that end, I fear I am running out of time, as I was out of town for the beginning of the week and too busy to post - hope you all won't mind if I do a bit of a clean sweep here to share some of my other favorites...

Jules Shear and Susan Cowsill: Restaurant Scene


Jules Shear is best known as the author of Cyndi Lauper's "All Through The Night" and the Bangles "If She Knew What She Wants", but I'm particularly enamored with his recording, Between Us, definitely in my Top Ten - his gift for lyric writing is beyond description ("some people are changed by great romances but it's the wounds that make us who we are" and "so try to make it like the dream you had, the peaceable kingdom where no one's betrayed" and so many brilliant turns of phrase too numerous to name) and this CD is composed entirely of duets with such notables as Carole King, Ron Sexsmith, Paula Cole, Freedy Johnston and others. My understanding is that it was written after his break-up with Aimee Mann and each song is more tragic than the next - her side of the story can be heard on I'm with Stupid Now (guess perspective is everything)...

Amy Rigby and Todd Snider: Til the Wheels Fall Off


I loved what Anne said in her Nick Cave/P.J. Harvey post ("when two artists you love do a duet together you feel like the universe is lining up") - that's exactly how I felt when Amy Rigby had Todd Snider join her on a song a few CDs back. I am a fan of both, as their sometimes cynicism belies a true faith that trouble is only temporary - this tune mines the road-trip-as-relationship metaphor ("I guess the path of least resistance wasn't on the map")...

Robert Earl Keen and Margo Timmins: Then Came Lo Mein


When a Texas songwriter teams up with the female lead singer of The Cowboy Junkies, anything is possible - through the use of puns ("I was steamed, I was fried") and interweaving voices, they manage to put a poignantly humorous spin on a nervous breakdown in a Chinese restaurant...

Nanci Griffith and Adam Duritz: Going Back to Georgia


Queen of country-folk meets lead singer of angst-ridden rock band - what could have been a recipe for disaster succeeds beyond wildest expectations. This song is on my funeral tape ("I've been blinded by the sun, washed in the rain, scattered in America, I'm scatterin' again, but if you're goin' south, darlin', I guess I'm travelin' with you") - yep, Georgia's always on my mind....

Friday, January 30, 2009

Duets: Dida

Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell: Dida


In his previous post, Darius said: "There also many fine all-female duets, but I leave that thought with my fellow Starmakers" - his "gauntlet" immediately brought to mind this amazing vocal collaboration between two Joans (Joni's birth name is Roberta Joan Anderson)...

Never has so much been done with so little - two nonsensical syllables (di-da) swirl and whirl and twirl and braid and weave and criss-cross and merge and mesh and entwine and spiral and elevate... until your (at least my!) cheekbones are aching from smiling so broadly at the sound of two diverse voices creating such intricate beauty in tandem...

From the liner notes of Diamonds and Rust:

Dida [written by Joan Baez]... was originally recorded with Joni Mitchell in June 1974 while Joan was in the studio doing a record of political nature. It held up as a valid track in Joan's mind for seven months, so when she got back to L.A. she went into the studio with Henry Lewy, the original engineer, to finish it up. Tom Scott and some of L.A.'s top horn players came in on it, and the album was complete.

Duets: Gram & Emmylou

Gram Parsons: Ooh Las Vegas
Gram Parsons: We'll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning


I know it's a rather obvious choice, but I just can't let this week go by without offering something from Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris.

I don't even think I need to say much here... just that when Gram and Emmy sing together... I think that's what music is supposed to sound like.

Duets: Henry Lee

Nick Cave & PJ Harvey: Henry Lee


When two artists you love do a duet together you feel like the universe is lining up. Of course, in the case of the duet between Nick Cave and PJ Harvey, the pairing was even obvious to them. The two dated briefly around the time of Cave's most well-known album "Murder Ballads", just long enough for them to record this traditional ballad together in his trademark spooky style and for the relationship to (supposedly) inspire much of his next album "The Boatman's Call".

Both Harvey and Cave are artists with a penchant for dark and sinister storytelling, both seem to have a way of thoroughly creeping out the average listener. Their styles seem to mesh perfectly, apparently they agreed since they shared a rather passionate, if somewhat brief, relationship together. The video for the track is spooky yet very sexy as well, it sort of personifies their relationship as well as their public persona. Strangely, I find they even look a bit similar, making the whole thing even creepier if you ask me. It's almost as if Cave had found his female counterpart, or perhaps, they're long lost cousins.

Duets: Men’s Edition

I couldn’t help noticing that all of the songs posted this week were duets between a male and a female singer. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, and the music has been great. But there are other possibilities. Here are two fine examples of duets between two male singers. There also many fine all-female duets, but I leave that thought with my fellow Starmakers. There’s still time!

Johnny Cash/ Willie Nelson: (Ghost) Riders in the Sky


VH-1 Storytellers was a series that usually featured one artist talking about the craft of songwriting, and playing examples. Musically, the results were often spectacular.

But, for one episode, somebody had the idea of getting Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson together to talk about each others songs. Cash and Nelson are, of course, both country artists, but with very different styles. So this could have been a disaster. But, judging from the episode as aired, the two really hit it off, and the music showed it. (Ghost) Riders in the Sky is only one example of how wonderfully they were able to mesh musically.

Bill Morrissey and Greg Brown: Duncan and Brady


Bill Morrissey and Greg Brown used to run into each other on the folk circuit, (they probably still do, for that matter). Over time, they became friends, and jammed together at festivals. Soon enough, they got the idea of recording an album together. What with schedule conflicts and all that travel, it took a few years before it finally happened. Both are fine songwriters, but by the time they went into the studio together, they had decided to record a set of songs by other writers. Duncan and Brady is a traditional song that they selected.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Duets: Kate and the Ghost of Lost Love

Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer: Kate and the Ghost of Lost Love

[purchase] (scroll about halfway down to When I Go CD)

I seem to be on a ghost tangent with this theme - hey, if the spectral slipper fits, right?

I first heard Kate and the Ghost of Lost Love, up close and personal, at the Albuquerque Folk Alliance in February 1999 - I deemed it then "the perfect song": a guy/girl duet, alternating verses, traded lines, stunning harmonies, aching violin solo, precise counterpoint singing...

It increased in poignancy (as if that were possible) when Dave Carter passed away in July 2002 of a heart attack - as a long-time and avid fan, I continue to "count the days in cups of wine and the candles I have burned"...

Here, in Dave's own words, is the live introduction he used to give, almost as sad as the song itself:

Long time ago, there was this boy and this girl. And stop me if you've heard this, but they fell in love. And stop me if you've heard this, but he promised her that he would stay with her forever. Well he meant it, at the time. But after all too short a time, the call of the open road proved too great for him, and he took off running, right on down it.

Still, she believed that some day he would return to her. And so every night, she would burn a candle in anticipation of his return. This went on for weeks, and months, and years, this burning of candles. It went on for almost twenty years. And just as she was coming right up on that twenty year mark, well, she was running mighty short on candles. In fact, she was down to her very last candle.

But you know that just as that last candle was flickering and sputtering and about to go out, and just as the first winter snowflakes were beginning to fall beneath the midnight sky, she thought she heard his voice at her garden gate. Or maybe it was his ghost, after all those years of being gone. Or maybe it was only the wind. But either way, they had this little conversation, which we call "Kate and the Ghost of Lost Love."

"So many candles" indeed - sigh...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Duets: Kisses Sweeter Than Wine

Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt: Kisses Sweeter Than Wine


Kisses Sweeter Than Wine was written by Pete Seeger for his group at the time, the Weavers; (I posted the original version on Oliver di Place a while ago, and the link is still active if you’d like to hear it.) Here, I have chosen a cover version over the original. On the Weaver’s version, Pete Seeger and Ronnie Gilbert sing alternating verses, but all four of the Weavers sing the choruses. But Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt perform the song as a true duet, again alternating on the verses, but with just their two voices on the choruses.

Like so many male/female duets, Kisses Sweeter Than Wine is a love song. But Seeger was not simply writing about that first rush of falling in love. The song starts there, but each verse goes another step onward. This is the only song I know of that traces how love grows and changes over a lifetime. .

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Duets: Something Stupid

Nancy Sinatra´s perhaps better known for her classic duets with eccentric producer Lee Hazlewood - Summer Wine, Sand, Some Velvet Morning, Jackson - but luckily she didn´t refuse when dad came knocking. The pleasant twist a father & daughter combination brings to the made-for-lovers lyrics of Something Stupid just might have had something to do with that.

"I know I stand in line until you think you have the time to spend an evening with me,
and if we go someplace to dance, I know that there's a chance you won't be leaving with me..."

The story goes that Ol´ Blue Eyes played the original of Something Stupid (written and performed by folky married couple Carson and Gaile) to Hazlewood back in ´67, asking his opinion. Hazlewood said ´I love it, and if you don´t sing it with Nancy, I will...´ So Frank answered: ´We´re gonna do it, book a studio.´ The result: two minutes and thirty eight seconds of pure pop bliss, and the only father & daughter duet to reach the number one spot in the American charts.

Robbie Williams sang Something Stupid with actress Nicole Kidman a few years back, scoring a huge hit too. Just goes to show that nothing´s sacred anymore.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Duets: I Want To Sing That Rock and Roll

Gillian Welch: I Want To Sing That Rock And Roll


The David Rawlings Machine: Elvis Presley Blues

[live bootleg]

Glen Phillips: Revelator


Co-writer, producer, and constant companion David Rawlings may be willing to let Gillian Welch have the billing, but those in the know understand that the act known as "Gillian Welch" has been a true partnership since its inception in the early nineties. As such, most Gillian Welch songs are duets by definition.

As proof, we need only note that pretty much every cover of a Gillian Welch song I have ever collected retains Rawlings' subtle, unbilled but everpresent harmonies and intertwined second guitar part as if they were inherent in the tune itself. For example, though Glen Phillips is billed solo, the duet harmony leading into the chorus on his cover of Revelator is neither a surprise nor a fluke; similarly, you'll hear the exact same harmonies on Chris Pureka's cover of Everything is Free that you will on the Welch/Rawlings original. I also note that the two perform together on occasion as The David Rawlings Machine: when they do, though their material tends towards coversong, the guitar interplay and harmonies remain static; the only difference is that Rawlings is more prone to sing the verses, as he does in the bootlegged "Gillian Welch cover" above.

Here's a typical set, with originals under each name and a cover to split the difference; for more on the partnership, check out this longer treatise on Gillian Welch I wrote back in January '08.

Duets: Father/Daughter Dialogue

Loudon Wainright III (w/ Martha Wainwright): Father/Daughter Dialogue


One of the many beauties of duets is the ability to get two perspectives. This is often done with love songs, break-up songs in particular where there are so often two sides to the same story. But rarely do they involve both of the actual people involved singing their side of the story, and that is what makes this particular duet so powerful.

Loudon Wainwright III married folk singer Kate McGarrigle. Both being singer-songwriters, music was a big part of their life together and their family became a frequent subject. They had two children together, Rufus and Martha, both of whom are respected singer-songwriters for their own generation now. Loudon often wrote songs about his family, about Rufus and Martha, and about fatherhood in general, but he wasn't actually around that much for his children since he was away touring and doing other projects so often. He eventually left their mother for another woman, and had a daughter by her who is now also a songwriter.

Martha and Rufus have now both written songs about their father for their own albums, and they're not quite as pleasant as his songs about them. But father and daughter came together on his 1995 album for this brief track to discuss both sides of their relationship in song.

Duets: Boom Magalina Hagalina Boom

Slim Cessna's Auto Club - Boom Magalina Hagalina Boom


I could post a SCAC song every day of week for this theme. Slim Cessna's signature sound features the harmonies and back and forth vocal performances of Slim and Munly.

SCAC writes big songs, I don’t really know how else to describe it. They aren’t heavy, they aren’t loud, and they’re rarely disposable. They are often labeled as “gothic country” due to the intermingling of Old Testament and apocalyptic religion with bad relationships, alcohol, and murder. If nothing else, SCAC is, IMO, one of the best bands in America that hardly any one’s heard of.

Here is a bonus song. Both of these tracks are off Slim Cessna's 2008 cd, Cipher, which was named the album of the year by

Slim Cessna's Auto Club - An Introduction To The Power Of Braces [Arms]

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Duets: Conversation with a Ghost

Ellis Paul: Harmony (poem)

Ellis Paul and Patty Griffin: Conversation with a Ghost


I know there's a longer, more detailed story behind Ellis Paul's song Conversation with a Ghost (the lyrics reflect what emerged via a Ouija board interaction with a recently-deceased friend)... but it's in his book... which I own... which is at home... where I'm not - so... I'll follow up with a comment when I return in a few days...

I do, however, have in my possession a Duets mix CD I made for myself at least five years ago - Ellis' poem perfectly describes the magic when two voices combine and elevate to a sum substantially greater than their parts... then just as perfectly illustrates that alchemy... with Patty Griffin joining him on achingly beautiful harmony on the tune from Say Something, his first (although the version I've included is on his Live CD).

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.

Duets: Don’t Give Up

Peter Gabriel (with Kate Bush): Don‘t Give Up


Peter Gabriel asked Kate Bush to Sing backup for him on the song Games Without Frontiers. He must have been pleased with the results, because he asked her back for Don’t Give Up. Unlike the earlier song, Don’t Give Up is a true duet, with each voice part having equal importance.

Here, Gabriel sings the part of a man at a low point in his life, a man in despair. Most duets would have Bush singing the part of a new or prospective lover, come to make everything right. But Peter Gabriel has done something a little different; Bush sings the part of a sort of Greek chorus of friends and/or family, who reassure him that he still has people who care about him. By the end of the song, this support group has brought him to a much better emotional state.

So Don’t Give Up is an unusual duet for the role that Kate Bush portrays. And it is ultimately a hopeful song, making it the perfect transition song from our previous theme.