Carrie Rodriguez & Ben Kyle: We Still Love Our Country

Written by February 22nd, 2011 at 10:45 am

Carrie Rodriguez & Ben Kyle
We Still Love Our Country
(Ninth Street Opus)
Rating: ★★★★☆

You won’t be able to hear this brief set of generally melancholy male/female country duets without referencing the similarly styled legendary work of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. And since three of the eight tracks on this barely 30 minute EP are associated with those two Americana icons, Carrie Rodriguez and Romantica frontman/songwriter Ben Kyle aren’t trying to discourage the comparisons. While these heartfelt performances may not meet the high Parsons/Harris watermark, they are every bit as committed to the material.

Kyle is the lesser known entity but acquits himself admirably with his yearning, sweet, tenor voice wringing emotion out of even hoary, over-covered standards such as “Love Hurts.” Rodriguez’s charming, low key vocals mesh perfectly with his, making this a match made in contemporary folk/country heaven. Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You,” while beautifully realized, isn’t substantially different than other versions already recorded by dozens of artists. More impressive is the twosome’s take on Rodriguez’s old partner and mentor Chip Taylor’s “Big Kiss,” a song she has already covered on her solo debut, but benefits here from the stripped down arrangement along with Kyle’s sensitive singing. John Prine’s “Unwed Fathers” is a terrific find and one of the few instances where Rodriguez features her gently soaring, rustic fiddle playing. The sparse production rightly focuses on the vocals with a backing band that’s in the pocket yet appropriately reserved. If the duo can whip up another eleven songs as solid as the lone jointly composed original “Fire Alarm,” they should continue this sympathetic partnership and expand it to an album of originals.

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