That'll be country music that they still love, there isn't actually any flag-waving patriotism going on here, much to my relief. Carrie Rodriguez should need no introduction but Ben Kyle is the front man for Minnesota alt-country band Romantica. This recording of eight duets in classic country style was released a while ago in the States, but has just received its UK release ahead of Carrie Rodriguez' imminent visit to this country.
There seems to be a lot of revisiting of the classic country sounds of the 60s and 70s just now, and We Still Love Our Country opens with a Ben Kyle original that sounds pure Nashville from the late 60s. In those days, though, a song like Your Lonely Heart would have been milked for all the sentimentality that could be wrung from it but Carrie and Ben keep it brisk, riding the country swing of the tune without pausing to indulge any lurking lachrymosity. It sounds great, hitting the nail on the head in terms of what old-timers like to call "real" country; in some ways it's the most successful melding of their voices on the album. Ben's voice sometimes sounds rather more British folk (he was born in Belfast) than real country, whilst the character in Carrie's voice disappears a bit when she's reining back to sing harmony - and lets face it, it's the distinctive character in Carrie's voice that makes her singing so enjoyable. On this opening song, though, it all comes together nicely and fans of Carrie Rodriguez' earlier work will know it's her right away.
They top the album off by tackling one of the great summits of country duet singing, Love Hurts. Acknowledging that this album was inspired by Gram and Emmylou, they give the song a good go but the ghosts of that earlier performance are lurking behind every phrase and I fear they only succed in making me want to put Grievous Angel (vinyl copy!) on the turntable. Still, before we get to that, there's six other songs paying respects to some of the very finest songwriters - Chip Taylor, John Prine, Townes van Zandt - and songs made famous in earlier times: You're Still On My Mind was big for both George Jones and Gram Parsons whilst My Baby's Gone was a hit for The Louvin Brothers more than half a century ago. On all these songs they have moments that seem to work and I think the tender sweetness that they bring to Townes' If I Needed You is particularly fine, but that feeling of a true musical marriage comes and goes. You sometimes get to the end of a song and feel they haven't quite nailed what they were setting out to do.
However, the finest song here, in terms of performance, is one they wrote together, Fire Alarm. It's a lovely, cheery tune as they trade their perspectives on the state of their relationship, very much in the mould of John Prine's In Spite Of Ourselves. That this and Ben Kyle's own song work best suggests that they should come back for another go at this game, because when it works well, there's nothing quite like it.
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