Essential New Music: Colvin & Earle’s “Colvin & Earle”

ColvinAndEarle

Best-case scenario: This (seemingly) one-off project between singer/songwriter heavyweights Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle brings out the best in two artists who, at this point, are fairly set in their ways. Worst-case scenario: The pair’s obvious disparity in styles (she of West Coast sophisticate folk persuasion, he of the hard-earned Texas troubadour variety) and vocal approach (diamond in the rough vs. roadside gravel) are disconcertingly accentuated rather than offset. Thankfully, it’s more of the first scenario on Colvin & Earle. As rugged as it is wistful, the leadoff “Come What May” has a chorus that’s hard to shake. “Tobacco Road” is a menacing lark, with Earle doing his damnedest to drag his more refined cohort into the manure pile, while the ominously beautiful “Raise The Dead” harnesses a little more of that menace and turns it inward.

The most emotionally direct of the 10 tracks, “You Were On My Mind” finds Earle admirably keeping pace with Colvin in an upper register he rarely attempts these days. Aside from trading a few verses on “The Way That We Do,” the pair sings as a nuanced unit. That double-barreled vocal approach carries the most emotional weight when the songs can shoulder the load. Not all of them can: “Tell Moses” is overwrought and dirgy, and an awkward cover of “Ruby Tuesday” feels like filler. But there’s enough meat on the bone here to fend off the occasional flirtation with the aforementioned worst-case scenario.

—Hobart Rowland