Back in April my friend and fellow writer Paul Villers compiled a selection of 10 americana duets. However, like many brilliant compilations, the source material is so extensive it just cried out for a follow-up. So, with a nod of approval from Paul, I am adding another 10 to his original list. I’ve tried to focus on both the classic and some of the more unusual collaborations involving americana artists. This continuation of Paul’s initial conversation is just that, a continuation. There is still so much out there, so please add your own suggestions and favourites underneath. Neither of our lists feature Emmylou Harris, perhaps the queen of the duet. There are just so many to choose from that it became an impossible task. Emmylou is probably worthy of a top 10 of her own, but that’s for another time. So, here we go.
Gene Clark & Carla Olson – ‘Gypsy Rider’
Taken from their 1987 joint album ‘So Rebellious a Lover’ this song was written by Gene Clark. The two made the album and toured together to promote it. This is taken from an unknown TV show but perfectly illustrates the synthesis between Clark’s spectral voice and Olson’s palliative harmonies. The quality of the performance more than compensates for the rather grainy images.
John Prine & Iris DeMent – ‘In Spite of Ourselves’
Taken from Prine’s 1999 album of the same name, this TV performance is simply magical. DeMent sang the song, along with three others, on the album which was made up entirely of duets and also features collaborations with Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams. This clip sees both Prine and DeMent in fine voice and clearly enjoying themselves. I challenge you not to smile while you’re watching.
Rosie Flores & Dave Alvin – ‘Goodbye Again’
This clip comes from a 1990 edition of the curiously named ‘Art Fein’s Poker Party’, an LA cable TV show. The song was co-written by Texas honky-tonk legend Rosie Flores with Dave Alvin and appeared as a duet on the latter’s ‘King of California’ album in 1994. This totally acoustic performance is even better than the album version.
Al Green & Lyle Lovett – ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’
On the face of it these two might seem like an unlikely partnership. Al Green, of the silky voice and flamboyant presence, coupled with Lovett’s more limited vocal range and constrained temperament. However, it works beautifully as the two differing styles complement one another to produce a real treat. This Willie Nelson song was released by the pair as single in 1994 from the album ‘Rhythm, Country and Blues’, a collection of duets between Country and Blues/Soul artists.
Loretta Lynn & Jack White – ‘Portland Oregon’
On to perhaps an even more unlikely duo. Other than a joint album with Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton in 1993, Loretta Lynn hadn’t enjoyed a top 5 country album since 1977 until she teamed up with Jack White to make the superb ‘Van Lear Rose’ in 2004. The album reached number 2 in the country album charts and received universal critical acclaim. This clip is from ‘The David Letterman Show’ in the same year.
Nanci Griffith & Townes Van Zandt – ‘Tecumseh Valley’
This is another one where the quality of the film is not wonderful, but as you immerse yourself in the excellence of the performance, that ceases to matter. The song was written by Townes Van Zandt in 1969 and popularised by Nanci Griffith in 1993 which is when this performance was filmed.
Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis – ‘Wild Wild Wild’
In 2018 Chicago alt-country legend Robbie Fulks teamed up with Jerry Lee’s little sister, Linda Gail Lewis to record an album for Bloodshot Records. Here we see an acoustic performance of the title track from that LP. Recorded at Paste Studios in New York, it just brims with fun and energy.
Tony Joe White & Johnny Cash – ‘Polk Salad Annie’
The Johnny Cash Show ran on US TV from June 1969 to March 1971 and during its 58 episodes Cash’s guests read like a who’s who list of American music. Cash frequently duetted with some of his guests, producing many memorable moments. Few, if any, were as memorable as this appearance from Tony Joe White from November 25th, 1970. They are both clearly enjoying themselves.
Mavis Staples & Jeff Tweedy – ‘Wrote a Song for Everyone’
Mavis Staples released the album ‘You Are Not Alone’ in 2010. The album was produced by Jeff Tweedy and won a Grammy for best Americana album. One of the songs on the album was a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Wrote a Song for Everyone’ which is performed here with Tweedy accompanying on acoustic guitar and vocals. The star though is Mavis and THAT voice.
Snoop Dogg & Willie Nelson – ‘Superman’
Yes, you read that correctly. Willie Nelson has sung duets with scores of artists over his long career, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, you name them, Willie’s sung with them. Only you probably wouldn’t name rapper Snoop Dogg, but here it is from ‘Live on Letterman’.