Country duet albums are few and far between these days. To my ears, however, two of the best recent examples of this dying subgenre came out in 1999: John Prine’s In Spite Of Ourselves (on which Prine teamed with Iris DeMent, Patty Loveless, Melba Montgomery and others) and a self-titled disc from the Two Dollar Pistols with Tift Merritt (featuring Merritt and Pistols frontman John Howie). Unlike those, however, which center on the ghost of duets past, Californians Rick Shea and Patty Booker rely mainly on their own compositions; one or the other of them wrote eight of the thirteen songs on Our Shangri-La.
The fact that their originals are first-rate makes the disc all the more striking. Shea and Booker, who appeared separately on 1992’s A Town South Of Bakersfield Vol. 3, provide an updated and simmering version of classic west coast honky-tonk. The Booker-penned “I Know What’s Wrong (But I Just Can’t Get It Right)” and “You”, two hard-country songs super-charged by steel guitarist Gary Brandin, might go to No. 1 if Tim and Faith sang them.
Shea, a member of Dave Alvin’s Guilty Men, has a whole lot of Hag in his voice and writing; the country legend would likely approve of Shea’s “I’m No Good Without You” and “The House That We Once Lived In”. In fact, two Haggard hits are effectively covered: “You Take Me for Granted” (written by Leona Williams) and “The Bull And The Beaver” (co-written by Williams and Haggard.)
The so-so title track takes it cue from the George Jones/Tammy Wynette classic “We’re Not The Jet Set” in its approach, but it’s not nearly as memorable. For the most part, however, Our Shangri-La is an auspicious team effort.