As you probably have noticed, there is no shortage of tribute acts on the concert scene right now. So it feels great to come across one with a refreshingly unique angle.
As part of this summer’s series of free concerts being offered outdoors at Woodbridge High School, Jenni Muldaur and Teddy Thompson presented a lively and thoroughly entertaining tribute to classic country duets — the kind that don’t get covered very often, in part because few bands have both a male and a female vocalist talented enough to pull them off.
Muldaur and Thompson, of course, are veteran recording artists in their own right. The also happen to be the offspring of other renowned musicians (Maria and Geoff Muldaur, and Richard and Linda Thompson). And they both have a deep affinity for country music. Before performing Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” in Woodbridge, Muldaur mentioned that it was the first song she ever learned to sing. The London-born Thompson’s 2007 album Upfront & Down Low was mostly devoted to covers of classic country songs by Parton, Ernest Tubb, The Louvin Brothers and others.
“Teddy’s from another country, but he’s got country in his soul,” Muldaur said in Woodbridge.
During the pandemic, West Orange-based producer and multi-instrumentalist David Mansfield had the idea to record a series of three four-song EPs by Muldaur and Thompson — devoted to duets by Parton and Porter Wagoner, Tammy Wynette and George Jones, and Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, respectively — and release them on his Fallout Shelter Records label.
The Woodbridge show was devoted mostly to this material, supplemented by other songs; as Muldaur mentioned onstage, the duets are so short that more songs were needed to create a complete show. Mansfield — playing pedal steel guitar, as well as acoustic guitar, mandolin and violin — led the backing band, which also featured bassist Tony Scherr, keyboardist-guitarist Doug Derryberry and drummer Greg Wieczorek; together, they did a remarkable job of reproducing the vintage Nashville sounds of the original recordings.
Muldaur and Thompson sang together on virtually every song, with rare exceptions including Muldaur’s dynamic solo takes on the Leadbelly blues lament, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” (on which she also played harmonica) and Wynette’s show-stopper, “Stand by Your Man,” as well as Thompson’s appropriately wry version of Charlie Louvin’s “I Don’t Love You Anymore (Trouble Is, I Don’t Love You Any Less).” In general, Muldaur sang in a more emotional style throughout the evening, while Thompson delivered his lyrics more stoically, but this was perfectly in keeping with the songs’ original templates.
Given the classic country theme, it’s hardly surprising that most of the songs were elegant ballads about love and heartbreak. There was plenty of variety in the show, though, with detours including The Everly Brothers’ catchy, pop-flavored “(Till) I Kissed You” and deep-grooved songs by Mickey & Sylvia (“Dearest”) and Bo Diddley (“Dearest Darling”).
“Pickin’ Wild Mountain Berries,” the duet by Lynn (whom Muldaur said she admired for her spunk) and Twitty, made for a high-spirited encore, with its galloping tempo and a climactic yelp by Muldaur.
Here is the show’s setlist, with Muldaur and Thompson’s sources for the songs in parentheses (in some cases, these songs have been covered by others as well):
“Just Someone I Used to Know” (Dolly Parton & Porter Wagoner)
“Put It Off Until Tomorrow” (Dolly Parton & Porter Wagoner)
“We’re Gonna Hold On” (Tammy Wynette & George Jones)
“Once More” (Dolly Parton & Porter Wagoner)
“Take Me” (Tammy Wynette & George Jones)
“If I Needed You” (Townes Van Zandt)
“After the Fire Is Gone” (Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty)
“Making Believe” (Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty)
“It’s So Sweet” (Tammy Wynette & George Jones)
“(Till) I Kissed You” (The Everly Brothers)
“Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” (Leadbelly)
“I Believe in You” (Neil Young)
“Coat of Many Colors” (Dolly Parton)
“I Don’t Love You Anymore” (Charlie Louvin)
“Take a Message to Mary” (The Everly Brothers)
“Just Between You and Me” (Dolly Parton & Porter Wagoner)
“Dearest” (Mickey & Sylvia)
“We’re Caught Between a Love and a Love Affair” (Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty)
“Dearest Darling” (Bo Diddley)
“Stand by Your Man” (Tammy Wynette)
“Golden Ring” (Tammy Wynette & George Jones)
“Pickin’ Wild Mountain Berries” (Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty)
Here are some videos from the show:
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