Your Take: What Makes A Great Country Duo?

Karlie Justus Marlowe | February 7th, 2009

It’s been a while since we served up our last Your Take, which asks for our readers’ thoughts on the people, progress and problems in today’s country music. Each discussion will ask a question based on a contextual and timely scenario garnered from a blog post, comment or news item on The 9513 that week. Look for the post to return as a weekly feature each weekend, and be sure to check in and give us your two cents.

In one of Brody’s news roundups this week, CMT announced Can You Duet is holding open auditions in Nashville on March 7 for the second season of its popular singing competition.

So far, season one has produced two standout duos: winners Caitlin & Will, who signed with Columbia Records and just sent its first single to radio, and Joey + Rory, whose Vanguard/Sugar Hill debut made our Top 10 Country Albums of 2008.

Joey + Rory came into the competition as a husband and wife team, serving up love songs so intimate I sometimes felt like a voyeuristic intruder. Caitlin & Will, on the other hand, had never met before the contest began and were spliced together by judges Naomi Campbell, Amiee Mayo and Brett Manning after several failed pairings with other competitors.

An argument could be made that Caitlin & Will’s love songs can’t contain the emotion, vulnerability or connection of those written and performed by a duo formed in a less contrived way. On the other hand, Brooks and Dunn, who won more Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music awards than any other country act in history, was put together by Arista Nashville exec Tim DuBois.

We want your take: Can a duo assembled by a reality show or record label based solely on marketability be as believable and/or successful as pairings connected by marriage, blood or long-time friendship? If you were a music exec, what two artists (of any genre) would you combine to make country music’s next great duo?

Also, in his review of Caitlin & Will’s single “Even Now,” Pierce mentioned standout duets like Tammy and George, Johnny and June, and Conway and Loretta. What duo is your favorite pairing of all time, and what special connection makes them believable as a duet?

  1. Josh
    February 7, 2009 at 9:13 am

    wow…I get to start. Ummm…I’d like to start out by stating that Johnny-June pairing are most believable for a few reasons: Johnny was stubborn about marrying her and even went so far as to change his ways for her after his drug addiction bouts ended, they are still together even after so many years until Johnny’s dying breath, and their love transcended well across audience, despite the initial marriage of John to that other woman (forgot her name). As for record companies and reality shows pitting two people together is a RARE occurrence of success if you ask me. Based on the article, I see only ONE example of an executive with such success, and I’m willing to bet that there were numerous examples of this happening all the time with no impact like Brooks & Dunn. As for reality shows…they are mainly a hit-and-miss type of thing. How many actual success has reality shows (including American Idol) contributed to an artist’s vision of persistence?? I’d say slim (with exception of the above-mentioned Joey+Rory. In my humble opinion, I think being exposed on TV garners more audience compared to an artist who deals his/her hands with just music biz venture. The more audience you get, the better your chances are heard…not that there’s anything wrong with this approach, it just seems to be rather a shortcut.

  2. President Dan
    February 7, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Well, there are different sorts of duos–we don’t really care if a studio put Brooks & Dunn together because they’re not singing love songs to each other.
    Also, they’re not even as much as a duo as Montgomery Gentry is–Brooks makes minimal vocal contributions to the (majority of) songs he doesn’t sing lead on, while M & G almost always both appear prominently of their songs.

    Sugarland is called a duo, though they more like a two (formerly three) person band that relies heavily on session players.

    Now as far as the great male/female duos– Conway & Loretta, George & Tammy, George & Melba, Johnny & June, Porter & Dolly, etc.–I think talent matters more than anything else. A great singer can conjure up emotions while singing to audiences night after night–they don’t have to have the object of their affections standing on stage with them.

    Let’s just say I’d rather hear a duet between Lee Ann Womack & Jamey Johnson than by Kellie Pickler & Jake Owens, even if the former were total strangers and the latter were madly in love with each other.

  3. Sam G.
    February 7, 2009 at 9:35 am

    I think that a successful duo can be spliced together by a music exec, and frankly, I don’t care if that’s the case if the music is good. What does it matter how Brooks & Dunn formed as long as they put out good stuff like “Neon Moon”? Admittedly, this argument starts to lose steam now that B&D has taken a turn toward the schlock, but that first album of theirs was great.

    I haven’t given Caitlin & Will a listen yet, but if their songs and their harmonies are excellent, I can overlook the fact that Naomi Campbell helped put them together (as a side note: what the hell is Naomi Campbell doing on a country music reality show?)

    My favorite all-time duo is The O’Kanes (Jamie O’Hara and Kieran Kane). Their voices were interesting and recognizable separately, but when you put them together, their harmonies absolutely soared. It didn’t hurt that they were both talented songwriters who refused to follow the mainstream. I miss the days when country radio not only played their bluegrass-inspired songs but gave them #1 songs and hit records. It’s just a shame that they were around at the same time as the Judds, as country radio has always had this bizarre rule of having only one dominant duo at a time.

  4. President Dan
    February 7, 2009 at 9:35 am

    I meant “they are more like.”

  5. Leeann Ward
    February 7, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Sam, Naomi Judd, not Campbell.:)

    I just want duos to sound good together, as if it’s natural for their voices to blend together. The problem with B&D is that they’ve never sounded like a duo, even when their songs were good. Ronnie sounded great on songs like “Neon Moon” and “Brand New Man”, etc, but they’ve never sounded like a duo. On the other hand, while I’m not a Montgomery Gentry fan, they actuallly sound like a duo. Their voices can both be heard singing together. The same goes with Big & Rich. In fact, B&R actually sound very good together. As for Sugarland, they certainly don’t sound like a duo. I feel like any other guy could be contributing vocals and we wouldn’t really notice, which is another part of being a true duo. If someone other than Naomi sang harmony in the Judds, I’d notice in an instant. Likewise, for B&R, MG, etc., but not B&D.

    So, those are my scattered thoughts on the matter…

    Oh yeah, my favorite famous duo is Johnny and June whith the Judds as a distant second.

  6. Leeann Ward
    February 7, 2009 at 10:03 am

    I’ll add that I’ve heard it argued that people like Kix, while not significantly vocally contributing to the duo’s sound, are pertinent to song collaborations. My argument is that contributing good songs does not make a duo. Fred Rose and Hank Williams, George Strait and Dean Dillon, Toby Keith and Scotty Emerick and so on aren’t duos.

  7. J.R. Journey
    February 7, 2009 at 10:15 am

    I’ll second all of Leeann’s comments. Except I think that Kristian Bush’s vocals are pretty recognizable. Listen to their latest single for an example.

    And my favorite Duo is Sugarland, then Brooks & Dunn, and The Judds.

    Some of my favorite pairings of solo stars include Rodney Crowell & Rosanne Cash, Reba & Vince Gill (or Reba & Ronnie Dunn), Conway & Loretta, and of course George & Tammy.

  8. Leeann Ward
    February 7, 2009 at 11:03 am

    But, sometimes, they don’t even exist, as is the case on “Stay.” I wil admit that when Bush does contribute, they’re recognizeable enough, which isn’t the case for B&D. When Ronnie’s singing, anyone could replace Kix and we wouldn’t even know it, because there’s no bussing harmony between them all and Brokks just fades in the background. Really, the same goes for when Brooks is singing; we don’t necessarily hear Dunn harmonizing with him either.

  9. Matt B.
    February 7, 2009 at 11:11 am

    But Leeann, Kix Brooks plays that guitar and dances around. Isn’t that basically what Kristian Bush does (albeit with a mandolin)?

  10. Leeann Ward
    February 7, 2009 at 11:47 am

    Ha, Matt. I definitely don’t give Bush much of an edge over Brooks. You can at least hear Bush when he does sing, which really isn’t the case for Brooks. Really, I still don’t consider either duo a duo in thepurest sense of the term. To me, the only thing that makes them duos is the fact that they call themselves duos.

  11. President Dan
    February 7, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Kix is sort of Country music’s Flava Flav.

  12. Nicolas
    February 7, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Joey + Rory kick booty =) Love ‘em so much, they have great personality together and they make great country music

  13. Annie
    February 7, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    I think there has to be more than just two good vocalists to make a great duo on. It’s the connection between the two artists. With Johnny and June – it was the love. With Big & Rich – it’s the yin and yang of the way they look and sound. With B & D – I think it’s it’s the “X” factor. There’s something about them together that just clicks with people . With Conway and Loretta – I always felt like they really liked and respected each other. My favorite duet ever is David Frizell and Shelley West “You’re the reason God made Oklahoma” and, if memory serves, wasn’t she involved with or married to his brother? I remember it was a little complicated…..anyway, David’s voice was really pure country and Shelley sounded like the girl next door. Bottom line for me – a great duo is like love….it’s doesn’t alwaly make a lot of sense ya’ know. Sometimes, it just works……

  14. Kim
    February 7, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Poor Kix. Guess he’s the Robin to Brooks’ Batman. But all superhero’s need a little help every now and then.

  15. dothanal
    February 7, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    #1 favorite – Big & Rich

  16. CF
    February 7, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    I’m a huge fan of Brooks & Dunn, but I agree with Leeann. They don’t really sing together. The only song I know that they really truly sing like a duo is “Born and Raised in Black and White” (I don’t own their earlier albums, pre-GH, so I don’t know about those). Some other songs that I can actually hear them singing together is like “Rock My World (Little Country Girl)” (which Dunn’s vocals are only really obvious at the end lol) and like “Only In America”, in which Kix sings the background vocals, and maybe a few others, but overall, Montgomery Gentry, who I’m not crazy about, are more of a “duo” than Kix & Ronnie. B&D are my favorite classified, established “duo”, though.

    My favorite duo/duet team would have to be… George and Tammy. It is really hard to not pick them.

    My favorite collaborators of all time would be Loveless and Gill. Every time they’re together, it’s magic. They have only one true duet so I didn’t really see them as a “duo”, but they could be considered one. Unlike B&D, their vocals are very much obvious in their collaborations.

  17. Rick
    February 7, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    My favorite currently active duo is husband and wife team Adam and Shannon Wright. I really, really like the music Joey + Rory are making but I prefer The Wright’s sound and I listen to The Wright’s CDs far more than Joey + Rory’s and Joey’s “Strong Enough To Cry” album, great as they are. I wonder if The Wright’s can get on the next CMT “Can You Duet”? They sure could use the media exposure.

    Gals whom I would love to hear more great duets from are Sunny Sweeney (with maybe Radney Foster), Elizabeth Cook (with maybe Jeff Bates), Amber Digby (with maybe Darryl Singletary), and Ashley Monroe (with maybe Matt Jenkins). Well, that’s my wish list anyway…

  18. Vicki
    February 8, 2009 at 11:56 am

    I think what makes a good duo is if their voices sound good together. Also, that both partners can sing as well. They are both equal partners as well, not dominated by one or the other. I love Joey and Roey. They are so laid back, relaxed and let their love for one another shine through. (BTW, anyone know if GAC is ever going to have them as a group for vote for on top 20? I mean I realize they were first recognized on a CMT show..but they are so much more than that show)

    I often wonder why Sugarland and Brooks and Dunn are duos for one is the dominant singer which doesn’t make it a duet. In fact, the true duos right now are Montgomery-Gentry.

  19. Michael
    February 9, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Wow! Not much love for Kix Brooks here today. I suppose most of the comments are correct though. He doesn’t add much to the act overall. I like the harmony of Vince Gill and Patty Loveless. Alison Krauss also collaborates well with just about everyone (James Taylor, Brad Paisley, Shenandoah, Robert Plant, John Waite, Alan Jackson, Kenny Rogers, John Michael Montgomery, etc.). As far as actual duos go, however: I can’t stand Big and Rich. My all time favorite duo is The Judds. Naomi’s contribution was significant enough and I will always love them! :)

  20. Linda
    February 9, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Sure, a studio creation can be believable, as long as they have chemistry together and make good songs. I’m not a fan of Brooks & Dunn but it seems they have those things since they’re successful despite apparently not being a true duo. I didn’t know they were created by a label exec. If they were pop singers, the public would be scorning them for being inauthentic.

    The Judds have great harmony. That’s what a duo should have. Too bad SHeDAISY isn’t a duo, otherwise I would pick them too.

  21. Paul W Dennis
    February 9, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    The key to a great duo is the vocal blend – without that, a duo is not really a duo. If I had to rate the duos, it would be in the following order:

    Phil & Don Everly
    Buck Owens & Don Rich
    Dolly Parton & Porter Wagoner
    Carter & Ralph Stanley
    Ira & Charlie Louvin
    Jim & Jesse McReynolds
    George Jones & Melba Montgomery
    Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper
    Johnny Cash & June Carter
    Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty

    honorable mentions
    Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius
    Ernest Tubb & Loretta Lynn
    George Jones & Tammy Wynette
    Emmylou Harris and almost anybody
    Montgomery Gentry
    Vince Gill and almost anybody
    Charlie Louvin & Melba Montgomery

    Buck Owens and Don Rich were never listed as a duo, but they were, in fact, the absolute best non-family duo at blending their voices together. When Don RIch died in 1974 the classic Buck Owens sound was lost forever

  22. Courtney
    February 11, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Loretta & Conway are good. I would buy anything she ever sang. I think Tim & Faith’s duets are believable so they are therefore good. And I like Johnny & June duets. Oh, and Miranda Lambert & Buddy Jewel’s version of “Today I Started Loving You Again” is amazing.

  23. CMW
    February 11, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Oh, and Miranda Lambert & Buddy Jewel’s version of “Today I Started Loving You Again” is amazing.

    Seconded! Miranda has never sounded better, IMO.

  24. Leeann Ward
    February 11, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    I’ll third that.

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