Although they first met 30 years ago when Shawn Colvin played support to one of Steve Earle’s acoustic gigs, it wasn’t until 2014 that, after having enjoyed the experience of sharing the stage with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Colvin decided she like to do it again. And, in turn, those live shows led to Earle suggesting they make an album together, a mix of new material and covers.
So, recruiting Buddy Miller producer and baritone guitarist alongside bassist Chris Wood, drummer Fred Eltringham and, a reunion from the Guitar Town days, guitarist Richard Bennett, they ran through 14 songs in just over a week, recording things live to capture the spontaneity of the live shows.
That loose-limbed vibe is evident from the start, the album opening with the first song they wrote together, Come What May, a catchy chorus barroom swaggerer that mixes country and folk rock, before switching to the rousing mandolin backed folk gospel of Tell Moses, a number you can imagine scorching up the live shows. Next up comes a pair of covers, Colvin’s choice a bluesy, throaty guitar take on John D Loudermilk’s Tobacco Road that hews close to the Nashville Teens version and Stones’ classic Ruby Tuesday, though I don’t feel it captures the same emotional power as either the quieter, piano-backed original or the more anguished reading by Melanie.
It’s back to the self-penned for the reflective melancholy of the mid-tempo The Way That We Do, Earle and Colvin taking turn on lead and the more upbeat lolloping, bluegrass tinged swing that is Happy & Free. The third cover comes with Earle’s choice of You Were On My Mind, a rousing blend of the Ian & Sylvia original and the US hit version by We Five, though I have to say it’s not a patch on the seminal cover by Crispian St Peters.
The last of the covers is a punchier arrangement of Raise The Dead, a relatively obscure Emmylou Harris number that appeared on her 1999 duet album with Linda Ronstadt, Western Wall, here given a different rhythm setting complete with wailing harmonica. It’s sandwiched between two original numbers, the reflective, gutsy, bluesy guitar You’re Right, I’m Wrong with Earle taking the drawled lead and harmonica again taking a turn in the spotlight, and the poignant closer You’re Still Gone, a harmonised ballad of loss and memory with Colvin and Earle adding lyrics to those penned by Julie Miller in tribute to her late brother.
The deluxe edition comes with three extra tracks, Someday, the Earle song that Colvin recorded for her 1994 Cover Girl collection, That Don’t Worry Me Now, a Colvin number originally featured on her These Four Walls album, and another cover, The Beatles’ Baby’s In Black.
It’s not a landmark and, if I’m honest, the covers probably work better live than on disc, but it does capture the feel of two artists kicking loose and having a good time, and that’s infectious.
Colvin & Earle is Released June 10th via Decca
Pre-Order via Amazon
Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle will play two special evening performances at London’s Union Chapel on Monday 13 June and Wednesday 15th June 2016.