Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle met 30 years ago when they were both rising stars. In 1987, Colvin even covered Earle’s small-town plaint “Someday.” In 2014, they started gigging together, playing their first show after a quick rehearsal in soundcheck of a ragged-but-right cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up, Little Susie.” They’ve been gigging ever since, and why not? Even at the start, they sounded natural together, and they’ve gotten better over time. For this first album as a duo, they’re collaborating as songwriters, co-writing six of these ten songs in a style that’s halfway between her voice and his.
Alone, Earle could never have written “Happy & Free,” with its sing-song verses about birds living in the trees, and Colvin couldn’t have written it without Earle, who chimes in on a dream-killing chorus about how you “wake up in the morning /and you know it was a lie.” It shouldn’t work, but it does, and that’s true about all these songs co-written at Buddy Miller’s house, finding a balance between opposite sensibilities and a simple harmony.
The band sounds beautifully relaxed, with old friends Miller (guitars, harmonium), Richard Bennett (guitars), and Chris Wood (baritone guitar, bass), backing Colvin on guitar and Earle on guitar, mandolin, mandocello, bouzouki, and harmonica. Covers “Ruby Tuesday,” “Tobacco Road,” and “You Were on My Mind” fit comfortably between hard country and folk-pop. And even when the songs are new, there’s a sense of familiarity that comes from two friends finding themselves mid-career, deciding to go out on tour, and using their craft to reach toward something new.
This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.