Collaborations work best when both artists have something to gain. On Colvin & Earle, Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin nicely complement each other’s work. Earle’s writing has long been his greatest asset, while Colvin’s singing has been hers. His tendency to leave things unpolished can be a detriment, and her tendency to worry things into perfection has compromised otherwise excellent recordings. In a setting where each is armed with better material than they might have found on their own and both are asked to give a little more than on their own recordings, their combined forces suggests a new vitality for both.

Neither loses their identity here. From start to finish, both have a strong presence, and within the first few measures of “Come What May,” you wouldn’t have it any other way. One problem with many collaborations is a tendency to lean on standards or subpar originals, but these covers are expertly chosen. “Tobacco Road” isn’t exactly one you’d peg to these talents, but the duo transforms it into a stomping backwoods number with grit and grime in its grooves. It sounds as dusty and dirty as the day it came into the world, maybe even more so, and positively fresh.

“Ruby Tuesday” retains enough of its musical DNA to be recognizable, but is transformed into the folk song it’s always wanted to be, one that can be pulled out ‘round the campfire for all to sing. A take on Emmylou Harris’ excellent “Raise the Dead” is one of several not-to-miss moments on the record, and maybe one of the more challenging ones. Harris’ original was a feat of production, its vocal phrasing and melody not a typical song to wake up singing in the morning. Colvin and Earle don’t make it sound any easier, but they prove that they can tackle a song about myth and music and make it their own.

With Buddy Miller producing and Chris Wood on bass, it’s hard to imagine that anything could go wrong, and nothing does. Miller’s greatest gift has always been finding the most natural settings for music, and he does that especially on pieces such as the closing “You’re Still Gone” (which his wife Julie had a hand in writing), the celebratory “Happy & Free” and the tender “The Way that We Do.” The latter finds both Earle and Colvin sounding vulnerable, the wear and character evident in their voices throughout. There’s a fragility apparent that other singers might not be comfortable showing, but which makes this record all the more endearing. It helps that there’s so much fun as well. “Tell Me Moses” reminds us that, in the end, it’s all music and music is about celebration and elevation.

If Colvin & Earle don’t break new ground, they surely make us believe in the power of friendship and song. That, it turns out, is good enough and then some. Note: The album’s Deluxe Edition includes three bonus cuts, including “Baby’s In Black.” For hardcore fans, it’s a necessity. For the rest, the original 10 are just fine.

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