Almanac Music: ‘Not Quite Bob’ – Alone Together

 

Not Quite Bob – Alone Together – Emmylou Harris and Gram and Rodney, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant,  Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan

 

In earlier pieces in NQB I’ve highlighted musical collabs worth a mention in the context of this theme.  In particular the female voice working beautifully with the male vocal.  It’s not unique to this form of course.  Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Ashford and Simpson, the Motown catalogue is full of great songs by male/female duets.  But there is something about this music – the melancholy songs, the sparse arrangements, the light and shade of the gruff and the sweet – that make some of these pairings particularly appealing.

 

 

 

Emmylou Harris and Gram and Rodney

 

In two of the other pieces I noted collaborations between Emmylou Harris and firstly Gram Parsons and more recently Rodney Crowell and felt later that maybe I’d sold her short.  Cast her in a sidekick role.  If so, that undersells a significant artist in her own right.

 

Emmylou was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1947, making her a near contemporary of Bob’s and of many of those I’ve written about to date.  Being from another career military family they move frequently.  By her late-teens she’s a music student at UNC in North Carolina and sets about learning the songs of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and … his Bobness of course.  Soon enough she’s performing in the folk clubs in New York and in 1969 she releases her first album Gliding Bird.  To show off her wonderful voice here she is on Dolly Parton’s ‘Coat of Many Colors’ from her second album, Pieces of the Sky which came out in 1975.

 

 

 

 

In the years between those first two albums she worked with Gram Parsons on his only two albums GP and Grievous Angel and I’ve dealt with Gram and those records previously.  The second includes an oft covered song called ‘Love Hurts’.  There’s really no footage I can find of them performing together which is a great pity but here they are anyway.

 

 

 

 

After Gram’s sad early demise Emmylou continues a prolific career which includes 26 studio albums of both her own material and frequent covers of songs by all the greats.  Her work includes trio settings too with Dolly and Linda Ronstadt and in 1987 they release an album with this on it.

 

 

 

 

By 1995 though she’s finding it difficult to get airplay and hold attention in a market being swamped by the rise of the alt-country, Americana emergence.  She’s considered somewhat ‘old hat’ until this.  Wrecking Ball released in 1995.

 

 

 

 

Take that music industry.  A terrific record of her own songs and covers of Neil Young, Bob, Daniel Lanois, Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and a song co-written with Rodney Crowell.

 

A few years later she releases Red Dirt Girl another sort of come back album and on and on she goes until 2013 and it’s a finally official collaboration with Rodney Crowell on Old Yellow Moon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings

 

Younger.  Nashville.  Authentic.  Awesome.  Nothing but.

 

Another with a background in the songs of Bob and Woody, Gillian’s career can’t be considered without reference to her husband Dave Rawlings with whom she has recorded 9 critically acclaimed albums – 5 in her own name, 3 in his and the last released under both names.  On top of that they’ve released a string of official bootlegs from lockdowns onwards with dozens of covers and originals recorded as though from the lounge room but really, better than that.

 

But first, the Gillian Welch albums.  So let’s start with this.  Every one of them is really good but two of them are … I’ve hammered all the superlatives elsewhere … two of them are stupendous.  Time (The Revelator) from 2001 or Soul Journey from 2003?  Coin toss.  It landed on this one.

 

 

 

 

And from there

 

 

 

 

Tell me that’s not a sublime heartbreaker.  But Soul Journey is great too.  ‘Look At Miss Ohio’.

 

 

 

 

In sync.  Perfect harmony.  Mesmerising.

 

David (Dave) Rawlings is Gillian’s musical and life partner right from the outset but in 2009 he steps to the fore with an album under his own name called A Friend of a Friend.  Six years later it’s Nashville Obsolete and from there, ‘The Weekend’.

 

 

 

 

Soon after this release they toured Australia and I know Col wrote a piece about it and other readers chimed in about the gig at Festival Hall.  We were there too and it was a cracker from start to finish.  A nice 30 minute slice of that stuff is here which underlines the variety and the quality from all concerned.

 

 

 

 

Since then they release All The Good Times in 2020 under both their names and then follows all the ‘on the front porch’ bootleg things that I’m still wading through.

 

Top notch Nashville based country music from two maestros.

 

 

Alison Krauss and Robert Plant

 

 

I don’t want to gallop past these two but I thought I’d go brief on the biogs and link a few clips.  I don’t need to biog Plant at all really (pom, singer, bon vivant, legend) but Alison Krauss may need some notes.  Alison is a prolific Illinois native, singer and fiddle player, bluegrass, country and pop.  Fun fact?  She’s won more Grammies than Aretha Franklin.  Totally different sphere and I’m sure she’d shrivel at the comparison but there you go.  Awards huh?!?

 

But she’s a good singer and the two albums she’s recorded with Robert Plant are beauties.  Lots of good songs, mainly covers, all with a treatment that is unique to the blend of their voices and the arrangements of the songs which gel perfectly.

 

The first one they did was 2007’s Raising Sand and here on Later With Jools (hands down the best music show ever), the title track.  Produced by T Bone Burnett, like Joe Henry, a great musician with impeccable taste which enhances every album he’s helped bring to an audience.

 

 

 

 

I really like how Plant sings under in a quietly assured way.  Her voice and his work brilliantly together.  As the story goes they tried to put together another album over the years, still performed and even went into rehearsal space but weren’t happy with the results so waited.  Until last year when they released Raise The Roof.  From that this song, made famous by Lucinda Williams (I’m a huge fan at the church of Lu), ‘Can’t Let Go’.

 

 

 

 

Swimming between the flags of these two records as I said, they kept performing.  It is completely irresistible not to include this song that you may know.

 

Now that’s a cover.  While the singer had the inside running he doesn’t overplay his home ground advantage here.  Perfect.

 

 

 

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan

 

Whoever thought the voice of the singer of this song

 

 

 

 

would work well with this voice

 

 

 

 

is, frankly, probably a bit nuts.  But it works (worked).  Isobel Campbell is a Scottish singer best known for her work with Belle & Sebastian (classic lame Brit arts college smarty pants types beloved of fans of the Smiths and Radiohead – don’t start me) and her own solo stuff.  Breathy, too sweet, appealing to shoegazers and people who like to frolic in meadows, it ain’t my bag.

 

While he’s touring the UK Mark Lanegan and Isobel meet and what follows are 3 remarkable duet albums in a few short years.  Lanegan for his part is a Seattle native whose band the Screaming Trees are exact matches for Nirvana, Soundgarden and Queens of the Stone Age all emblematic of the sounds of that city in the late 80’s and early 90’s (albeit that QOTSA are Californians).  Loud, aggressive, guitars, catchy tunes, gruff, growly singers.

 

Somewhat encouraged by the unlikely pairing of Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue, Isobel suggests they record together.  Lanegan jumps at it. Isobel writes most of the songs and records her vocals and the instrumental ‘beds’ for the songs in Glasgow, Mark does his vocals in LA and voila!  2006’s ‘Ballad of the Broken Seas’.

 

 

 

 

The next one is called Sunday at Devil Dirt in 2008.

 

 

 

 

From there, ‘Come On Over’.  As with a lot of these songs, sparse arrangements are better.

 

 

 

 

I still can’t decide if that album or the followup, Hawk in 2010, are the pick of the litter.  There’s no tiebreaker either but this track from Hawk is a gem.  ‘Come Undone’.

 

Get all 3.  There’s no way to make a mistake with this stuff.  In a very brief period 3 rippers, some great live performances and then they’re done.  It’s on him methinks.  A famously difficult man, drugs, booze, rages, self destructive behaviour.  The lot.  Isobel continues with her solo work and other collabs.  Lanegan cranks out a lot of solo albums more in keeping with his grunge history.

 

I saw him live at The Forum several years ago and if it wasn’t for the fan full of ink and talking shorthand in front of me who emptied his tum tum onto the floor half way through the gig, it would have been a near perfect show.  Ron Peno and the Superstitions in support too, big huzzah to the promoter.

 

Does this story end well?  Alas, no.  Mark Lanegan died last year when then resident in Ireland.  The notices were cryptic in that way we’ve come to expect which is sad.

 

But, for a short time there, he and Isobel Campbell forged the most unexpected and surprising musical alliance.  There’s a whole gig here to sit back and enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Two voices in sync, Bob and Joan, Johnny and June, yes, Nick and Kylie even.  And this lot.  Great on their own, better together.

 

You can read more from Trevor Blainey HERE.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Peter Crossing says

    Thanks Trev. Some great music here.
    The divine Miss Emmylou.
    Very early. Her 1970 version of Townes Van Zandt’s Sad Cinderella from a radio show tape. It’s on YouTube.
    The great combination with Gram Parsons.
    Emmylou singing harmony with Linda Ronstadt on Jackson Browne’s For A Dancer on Western Wall:The Tucson Sessions with cameo appearances from Jackson himself and Neil Young. Just brilliant.
    Emmylou and Steve Earle singing Nothin’ Without You on Train A Comin’. As Steve says in the liner notes, “The first time I met Emmylou …. she gave me half of her cheeseburger. I wasn’t the same for weeks”.
    And on a number of Steve Earle’s albums there is one track where he sings a duet with a female artist – Lucinda Williams, Iris Dement, Stacey Earle etc

  2. The Robert Plant/Alison Krauss recordings, particularly the first albums highlights two sublime singers with Alison, the clear winner.

    The NQB duets concept gets a bit shaky without Dolly and Porter, Nancy and Lee, George and Tammy, Sonny and Cher, Conway and Loretta and as you noted, that’s before we even consider soul, R&B, blues, funk, disco, hip-hop, Motown, Stax, Atlantic and other great genres (then we are in duet heaven). Most who were of course influenced by and created their art in the shadow of Bob.

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