- - Sunday, June 19, 2016

On the surface it seems like an odd pairing: Shawn Colvin, the folk singing sweetheart with the voice of an angel, and Steve Earle, the rough and gruff troubadour with a voice of gravel and dust. However, the duo is teaming up for a series of shows that bring them to the The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Miss Colvin’s hit’s include “Steady On,” “You and the Mona Lisa,” “Sunny Came Home” and “Shotgun Down the Avalanche,” while Mr. Earle’s songbook includes “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied,” “The Devil’s Right Hand” and “Copperhead Road.” But look deeper and you’ll see a shared wit and sensibility that makes the teaming up seem as natural as it is overdue. One listen to their debut CD, “Colvin/Earle,” and you’ll wonder how these talented musicians ever existed without each other.

Prior to their District shows this week, Miss Colvin spoke about the ties that bind, the new CD and what she thinks of TV talent shows.

Question: When did you and Steve Earle first meet?

Answer: We met when I opened for him in about 1990 at a club in Northampton, Massachusetts, named Iron Horse Cafe. Or not cafe — I think it’s just Iron Horse. I can’t remember anymore. [laughs]



Q: What was it about him that made you want to collaborate?

A: Well, it wasn’t because I met him. I had just always been a fan. Really my idea was just to do some gigs together. And we did that. It was his idea to make a record.

Q: Why did it take this many years to finally record together?

A: We had both been busy with our careers. I always kind of appreciated him. I was a fan of his music. I play solo most of the time now.

In recent years I started pairing up with some other artists [like] Mary Chapin Carpenter. I’ve done some duo gigs with her. I did some with Marc Cohn. I was in a quartet called Three Girls and Their Buddy with Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller.

It’s really fun to listen to other people and be an accompanist. I just really enjoy it and thought Steve and I might be a good combo.

Q: What is the one song Steve Earle wrote that you wish you had?

A: There are a lot of them. “Someday,” because I recorded that one. “Goodbye” and maybe “Jerusalem.”

Q: How did Steve bring up the idea of making an album?

A: We were just doing a soundcheck, and I think it started with, “We should write a song together.” Then he said, “We should do a record.”

My reaction to that was, “Yeah, and pigs should fly.” [laughs] When and how are we gonna do this? People talk about that kind of thing all the time, and it barely ever really happens because they have their individual careers.

Initially the idea was to do a bunch of cover songs and then maybe a couple of old songs of our own. Because of the live shows, we had worked some of those solo songs into duo songs. Steve’s song “Someday” we would sing the whole song together. That’s how we worked that up.

Then it just seemed silly not to try to write new songs. We tried that and it worked out well.

Q: How did you decide what songs to cover?

A: We each brought in two songs. I brought in “Tobacco Road” and “Raise the Dead.” Steve brought in “Ruby Tuesday” and “You Were on My Mind.” You would have to ask him how he chose the ones he chose. I just thought “Tobacco Road” was another great duo song — fun, edgy and different. Not a love song.

“Raise The Dead” is an Emmylou Harris song, and I’m a big fan of Emmylou’s songwriting. I just also thought that would be a great uptempo song to sing as a duo.

Q: You also released a full solo CD of covers. How do you take a known song and make it your own?

A: Well, it depends. Sometimes I’ll have inspiration in my head to cover a song differently than it was originally done. Other times I just learn a song because I love them and don’t have an intention of recording or playing them. I don’t really have anything interesting to add. I just keep them to myself. And sometimes I’m so in love with the song that I don’t care if I do it the same way as the original artist. [laughs]

Q: For this upcoming live tour, is it just Steve and you or do you guys have a band?

A: No it’s just the two of us. We co-wrote the songs just the two of us. All the covers were chosen as songs that would be good just sung together with our two parts. I don’t want to compare us to The Everly Brothers, but that’s the idea: the two-part harmony and the playing of guitars together.

Q: With the live shows, will it just be material from the new album, or do you perform each other’s songs?

A: Both. We will definitely do the record. Then we will throw in songs that we wrote individually that people want to hear, like “Copperhead Road” and “Sunny Came Home,” and a few chestnuts, as it were.

Q: You built your early career on playing in clubs and coffeehouses. What do you think of TV singing shows today that offer an instant career?

A: Well, do they work? It’s fun to watch, and there are some really talented people, but how many of them really have careers when it’s all said and done? Some.

It just seems like there is a lot of interest and excitement at first. And there are some talented folks. But you don’t necessarily hear from them again.

Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle play The Birchmere Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $79.50 by going to Birchmere.com

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