DISClaimer: Male-Female Duos Find Musical Homes in Americana

Grace and TonyIt’s Americana week here in Music City.

For some reason, this genre has lately been specializing in male-female duos. Perhaps in emulation of The Civil Wars, Shovels & Rope, Brennen Leigh & Noel McKay, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Over the Rhine and the like, we have a plethora of such teams on tap today — Carolina Story, Grace & Tony, Danika Holmes & Jeb Hart and Hardin Burns.

One of them, Grace & Tony, wins the DisCovery Award. They are married Nashvillians, and their last name is White. He is the brother of John Paul White of the aforementioned Civil Wars. Grace plays banjo and mandolin and is influenced by bluegrass. Tony plays guitar and comes from a rock background. No wonder they sound so refreshingly different.

The Disc of the Day prize goes to the enduringly great Lucinda Williams.

JIM LAUDERDALE/The Day the Devil Changed
Writers: Jim Lauderdale; Producer: Jim Lauderdale; Publishers: Ginger Dragon/Bug, SESAC; Sky Crunch (track)
-Jim Lauderdale was making Americana music before the genre even had a name. Fittingly, the award-show host was the artist who christened this week. He did so with a Monday-morning preview (at SESAC) and a Monday-evening premiere (at Bongo Java) of a new documentary about him. That film, The King of Broken Hearts, features this dramatic ballad, as well as its already well known title tune. Both can also be found on his new, 20-track CD, I’m a Song. This performance vividly illustrates that country’s loss is Americana’s gain, for it is a masterfully mournful, honky-tonk moaner. The album also features duets with Lee Ann Womack, Patty Loveless and Buddy Miller. Let a word to the wise be sufficient.

Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams

LUCINDA WILLIAMS/Big Mess
Writers: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publishers: none listed; Highway 20 (track)
-If Lauderdale is the father of Americana, Lucinda Williams is the mother. She was the first artist created by the genre to earn a Gold Record, and she remains a touchstone troubadour for all who have followed her. Her next project is a double album titled Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. It is due September 30, but you can preview this soul-soaked track on her website now. Bluesy, groovy and goose-bumpy, this is one righteous slab of sound.

DANIKA HOLMES & JEB HART/Black Swan
Writers: D. Holmes/J. Hart; Producer: Jeb Hart; Publishers: none listed; Red Schoolhouse
-She’s the singer, and he’s the dexterous acoustic guitarist in this charming, lo-fi folk duo. The song is catchy, and her singing style is ear tickling. Jeb also teaches music, and I can hear that he has a lot to offer.

THE LOUDERMILKS/Everybody Knows You
Writers: A. Edwards; Producer: The Edwards Brothers & The Loudermilks; Publishers: Alchamash, ASCAP; You Know What
-This acoustic band hails from North Carolina. Its debut CD features this tuneful, gently swaying ode to an admired one who can break your heart.

CAROLINA STORY/When I Was A Boy
Writers: Ben Roberts/Emily Roberts; Producer: Blake Chancey; Publisher: Stitched Together, BMI; True Bearing
-Ben and Emily Roberts are a Nashville couple who are balancing their career as traveling troubadours with the impending birth of their first child. That’s why this sweetly sung bit of parental advice is so timely. The extremely likable sound of Carolina Story debuted on the Grand Ole Opry in June. Congratulations to all “three” of you.

GRACE & TONY/November
Writers: Grace & Tony; Producer: Lloyd Aur Norman; Publishers: none listed; Rock Ridge (track)
-I like these folks. The duo’s songs are structured unusually, with checkerboard rhythm shifts and choruses sung with full-throated harmonies. The excellent production expertly mixes multiple percussion, steel, accordion, banjo, guitar, bass and even a dash of trumpet on one track. Different is good. Well worth your attention.

HARDIN BURNS/Down the Deep Well
Writers: Jeannie Burns/Andrew Hardin; Producer: Andrew Hardin & Gabriel Rhodes; Publishers: Jeannie Mary Rachel/Alligator Farm, BMI; Ithaca (track)
-Vocalist Jeannie Burns was previously in The Burns Sisters. Partner Andrew Hardin brings a Texas drawl to the proceedings, as well as sterling lead-guitar lines. On the title tune to their collection, they fret and worry over their mental states while a steady, relentless rhythm shoves them forward. Simple, yet enormously compelling.

DAVID G. SMITH/One House
Writers: David G. Smith; Producers: Blue Miller; Publishers: Alrose, BMI; DGS (track)
-The title song and first track on this Nashvillian’s CD expertly combines social commentary with a solid, bluesy groove. He pleads on behalf of the 99 percent of us for a world of peace, justice and stability. In addition to producer Blue Miller, the CD includes contributions from such talents as Jelly Roll Johnson, Larry Franklin, John Catchings and Mary Gauthier. Haunting sonics.

AMY BLACK/Alabama
Writers: Amy Black; Producer: Lex Price; Publishers: Got My Dime, SESAC; Reuben (track)
-With a sturdy harmony vocal by Will Kimbrough, this anthem to Dixie sounds like an instant classic. Amy’s This Is Home Nashville CD has been out for several months now, but singer-songwriters this solid are timeless.

BEN GLOVER/Oh Soul
Writers: Ben Glover/Mary Gauthier; Producer: Neilson Hubbard; Publishers: Carpe Vita Creative/Mary Gauthier, PRS/ASCAP; Carpe Vita Creative
-This Irish artist is now a Nashville resident. His fourth CD, titled Atlantic, features this lightly throbbing lament of a man who has lost his emotional compass. His soulful voice has just a touch of rasp, and he builds his song into a gospel-tinged epic with the help Lo Carter and April Rucker. Essential listening.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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