Two Masters Join Forces
The name says it all: Colvin & Earle. The self-titled debut record from Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle, two powerhouse folk performers, showcases a duo in the truest sense of the word, channeling a rollicking folk sound sure to satisfy their longtime fans and engage new audiences looking for a boot-stomping, whiskey-swilling sound.
This summer’s 10-track release is the result of a collaboration that began about two years ago, but, as the artists tell it, has its roots in a chance concert more than 30 years ago. With a combination of original songs and covers of traditional folk and rock-and-roll tunes, Colvin and Earle put their best feet forward in terms of guitar playing, melody shaping and harmonizing.
Their voices have a rough, unpolished edge that combine into a full-throated sounding. The head-nodding, foot-tapping guitar chords are augmented by shakers and muted drums throughout the album, along with various string instruments, but it’s the way these singers complement each other that merits a listen. Opening track “Come What May” is a strong start that the sets the tone for what’s to come, and tells the story of an inevitable love with all the confused, displaced affection that comes along with it.
The album reveals the duo’s more tender side with their cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday,” a fairly faithful rendition aside from extra string parts and the in-sync voices of Colvin and Earle. Wistful heartache continues in earnest on “The Way That You Do,” with descriptive scenes and evocative rhymes in a beautiful setting of classic confessional songwriting.
“You Were On My Mind,” one of the four covers, is a lively revival of the 60s country folk of Ian & Sylvia and the We Five, and it’s also one of the album’s strongest performances. It’s the kind of song you’d want to hear from the house band at a dive bar over and over again, only the players on the corner stage happen to be world-class folk musicians. But therein lies these players’ greatest strength — they’ve never lost their grit.
Colvin and Earle met early 30 years ago when she opened for him at the Iron Horse in Northampton, Mass. Both of their careers spawned great success and six Grammys between them. No one who listened to 1990s Top 40 radio could forget Colvin’s mainstream hit “Sunny Came Home,” while Earle’s resume reads like a Who’s Who of country and folk royalty.
The pair reconnected in 2014 and toured together on a sold-out run around the nation, which led to the recording of their newest duo debut. Joining them in the studio includes guitarist Richard Bennett, drummer Fred Eltringham, and bassist Chris Wood, with fellow Grammy winner Buddy Miller producing and playing baritone guitar. The result is potentially one of the strongest releases from both songwriters in some time, as it capitalizes on their raw and rough voices with a masterful showcase of playing.
“Colvin & Earle” is a folk-rock record for those who want unpolished, unfiltered heart in their players. You can hear how much fun they’re having in the way their voices rise and fall together, in the carefully spaced harmonies, and of course the raucous guitar. The style may not suit the tastes of all of today’s listeners, but it’s a must-hear for those who can handle folk-country and want to hear the true expressions of artists who’ve dedicated their lives to mastering their craft.