So, I’ve been trying to make a list of the best country duets. I realized this is a near-impossible task: is there any genre that has more duets than country? Maybe hip hop, but that’s a different kind of duet.
For the moment, my criteria are only the quality of the voices and the appeal of the harmonies. The harmony is a tough one, because sometimes the easiest ones to sing can be beautiful, so I’m not trying to judge on harmonic complexity only.
This is in no way an exhaustive list, but perhaps the beginning of an ongoing conversation. I’d like to hear others’ lists.
Here’s my top five:
5. NQ Arbuckle and Carolyn Mark, “When I Come Back.”
This one was tough, a toss-up between it and “Officer Down.” Their voices work really well together through their whole duet album. But I like the angst of the lyrics behind NQ’s growls in this one and the kind of urgent feel of the arrangement.
4. George Jones and Melba Montgomery, “We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds.”
I love the throaty twang of her voice.
3. Steve Earle and Siobhan Kennedy, “Poison Lovers.”
I don’t know why I love this one so much, but I play it all the time. I like the way Earle sings in the last chorus, changing the harmony, and letting these little grunts and sighs into his voice.
2. Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris, “Greenville.”
Well. These two voices. Amazing harmonies. Nothing else to say.
1. Louvin Brothers, “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby.”
Anyone care to dispute this one?
Anything by the Louvin Brothers, or the entire Roots album by the Everly Brothers. Anything by Waylon and Willie or Walyon and Johnny Cash doing "There Ain't No Good Chain Gang." Get the Kris Kristofferson/Rita Coolidge albums and anything by Loretta and Conway or George and Tammy. Sorry for not being more specific.
I agree--that is one hell of a duet, from one of Steve Earle's last great albums. (Train A-Comin', I Feel Alright, El Corazon, and The Mountain--we may never see a quadrumvirate quite like that again.)
There can never be a "best" but these are some of my favorites:
Johnny Cash & June Carter - Jackson
Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn - Wild Mountain Berries
Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton - Move It On Home
Ernest Tubb& Loretta Lynn - Sweet Thang
Here are ten of my favorites-- some of which aren't really "duets" but "just" songs with strong harmony vocal parts :
Love Hurts- Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris
The Battle- Ryan Adams & Caitlin Cary
Throw Me a Rope/The Way it Will Be- Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
Last To Know- Chris Mills & Deanna Varagona
Chalk- Buddy Miller & Patty Griffin
I'd Do The Same For You- Charlie Sexton & Shannon McNally
Rex's Blues- Jay Farrar & Kelly Willis
My Heart Echoes- Teddy Thompson & Iris DeMint
Conversations About A Friend- Thad Cockrell & Caitlin Cary
Oh My Sweet Carolina- Ryan Adams & Emmylou Harris
I'd definitely second Johnny & June doin' "Jackson."
Lately I can't get enough of Tift Merritt doing "One Paper Kid" w/ John Howie, Jr., from her EP w/ Two Dollar Pistols. Rex Hobart's cover of "Golden Ring" w/ Kelly Hogan is pretty killer, too, but the minute you add Hogan to any duet - even her goofball reading of "I'm A Little Bit Country, I'm A Little Bit Rock & Roll" w/ John Wesley Harding - you've got potential greatness on your hands.
I feel a need to throw an honourary nod to Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton on Islands in the Stream. It's greatness may be in dispute; it's legendary status can't be denied. I spent many hours in my parents K-Car listening to that song on cassette.