Kindred spirits Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin join forces for album and tour

Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle perform at BergenPAC in Englewood, July 20, and at the XPoNential Music Festival in Camden,

Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle perform at BergenPAC in Englewood, July 20, and at the XPoNential Music Festival in Camden, July 22.

Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle will perform at BergenPAC in Englewood on July 20, and it will be just the two of them, onstage together, with no other musicians, throughout the evening.

“We can make a lot of racket for two people,” said Earle in phone interview. “Shawn’s a great guitar player, and I play guitar, and mandolin, and bouzouki.”

The setlist will draw mainly from the album the two veteran singer-songwriters released last month, Colvin & Earle, along with some songs from their individual albums, including, most likely, Earle’s “Someday,” which Colvin memorably covered on her 1994 album Cover Girl.

Earle has always been a gruff singer, and there’s often an ethereal quality to Colvin’s voice, so you wouldn’t necessarily expect their voices to blend together well. But their voices sound perfectly natural together on Colvin & Earle, which features new songs plus covers of material such as The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” and Emmylou Harris’ “Raise the Dead.”

They don’t like to use the term “duet” because that implies something conversational, with the two singers tackling verses separately and then singing the chorus together, or something along those lines. They sing all the songs together, in the tradition of the Louvin Brothers and the Everly Brothers, not, say George Jones and Tammy Wynette.

“We sort of naturally do this cross harmony thing, which is kind of what the Louvins did and what the Everlys did,” said Earle. “We change parts. No one’s ever said, ‘You sing this part, and I sing this part.’ We just sort of do it. I’ve always considered myself to be an awful harmony singer, but I’m not (awful) with her.”

The cover of the "Colvin & Earle" album.

The cover of the “Colvin & Earle” album.

Earle, 61, and Colvin, 60, first met in 1987, when they were booked to do a show together at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Mass. Their paths continued to cross occasionally over the years.

Colvin first approached Earle about touring together about two years ago, after she did a similar tour with Mary Chapin Carpenter, and discovered she liked it. She and Earle did some shows together, and that led to the desire to make an album.

“We just discovered that the way we sing together is something: There’s something that happens,” said Earle. “So we wanted to write a record for that, as songwriters, so that’s what happened.”

Earle doesn’t see this as a one-time thing, but a partnership with further recording, and touring.

“It’s a band. I’m getting ready to make another solo record in November — I’m just kind of writing that, and moving towards that. But we’ll probably start writing together for another record while we’re out on this tour, ’cause otherwise it won’t get done. We’re together for the rest of the summer, so we’ll try to write some songs.”

Though it’s a new partnership, there’s a simple, back-to-basics quality to it that Earle seems to find refreshing.

“I did a tour, summer before last I guess … I just took one guitar, one mandolin, a backpack, and I didn’t take a tour manager or anybody, and I did 15, or 16 shows in Europe, traveled by train whenever I could. I just needed it. It was post-divorce, post-a lot of things. And I needed to prove to myself that I could still do it.

“Trust me, if this whole thing fell apart, and I couldn’t go out and play shows in a PAC, or a club, or a theater, I could go down in the subway, and busk, and I could make my rent.”

As, undoubtedly, could Colvin.

“We’re folksingers,” says Earle. “We’re both perfectly capable of holding down a room with just one guitar.”

Colvin and Earle will perform at BergenPAC in Englewood, July 20, and will also be at the XPoNential Music Festival in Camden, July 22.


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