Duet singing has fueled country music since its beginnings, both in family acts like the Delmores and Louvins, and superstar pairings like Dolly & Porter and Conway & Loretta. Nashville's recent duets have tended more toward marketing events than career paths, leaving those outside the mainstream to carry the torch. Shea and Booker, veterans of Southern California's honky-tonk scene, fan the flames of the country duet with a strong dose of the Golden State's recalcitrant twang.
The pair of singer-songwriters first met as disc-mates on 1992's "A Town South of Bakersfield, Vol. 3." Then, as now, they charted a course through Bakersfield, with Shea's tenure in Dave Alvin's Guilty Men adding a helping of roots-rock energy. Booker's voice is reminiscent of Rosie Flores, but together with Shea, especially on tunes like "The Bull and The Beaver," they recreate the high-low magic of The Kendalls. Beyond a few covers, such as the trail-dusted "Summer Wine," the duo's own arrangements and songs form the album's impressive core. The spare "You Take Me for Granted" would break the heart of Merle Haggard's original protagonist, and Shea's "Just a Matter of Time" crackles with the magnetism of Johnny & June. Shea's production keeps the voices front-and-center without short-changing the fine instrumentalists who set up the album's mood. Special mention must be given to steel player Gary Brandin, whose haunting runs, bell-like peels and weeping bends are nearly a third voice within the duets. This is an exquisite album that impresses upon first play and reveals more charms with every spin.