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By Gregg Shapiro
Almost 30 years ago, as country music was gaining momentum and becoming the inexplicably popular style of music that it is today, three of the most gifted and influential women to ever have a voice in the genre united to record an album under the Trio moniker. The combined talents of Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt proved to be a success, and the threesome also toured together, and then 12 years later released a follow-up album. Trio: The Complete Trio Collection (WB/Asylum/Rhino) compiles both Grammy-winning discs—1987’s eponymous album and 1999’s Trio II—as well as a 20-track third disc labeled Unreleased & Alternate Takes, Etc. The whole package is as spectacular as you might imagine. In addition to a few Parton covers, standards, and traditionals, the set includes stellar renditions of tunes by Linda Thompson (“Telling Me Lies”), Kate McGarrigle (“I’ve Had Enough”), Neil Young (“After the Gold Rush”), Jennifer Kimball (“The Blue Train”), and Randy Newman (“Feels Like Home”).
Potentially a more hipster version of Trio, the self-titled debut album by case/lang/veirs, on Anti-, brings together three women—Neko Case, out diva k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs—for one of the most pleasing collaborations in recent memory. In a significant way, case/lang/veirs differs from Trio in that all three women are both singers and songwriters. With that in mind, there are no cover versions here. In fact, Veirs is the predominant songwriter, contributing songs she wrote on her own (including the powerful Judee Sill tribute “Song for Judee” and the delightful “Best Kept Secret”), with Case (such as the propulsive “Down I-5”), with lang (the delicious “Honey and Smoke” and the warm “Blue Fires”), as well as with Case and lang (the magnificent album opener “Atomic Numbers,” the girl-group pop of “Delirium,” and the stunning harmonies of “I Want to Be Here”). Produced by Veirs’ husband, Tucker Martine, it’s the kind of album that makes the listener hope for more to come.
Colvin & Earle (Fantasy), a collaboration between Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle (in case you hadn’t figured that out), isn’t as surprising a pairing as you might expect. Both singers/songwriters first came to our attention in the last half of the 1980s. On the pop spectrum, Colvin was a little more folk, while Earle leaned toward country. Nevertheless, there’s enough common ground in their individual styles that such an alliance has produced an album worth hearing. Of the 10 songs, six are co-written by Colvin and Earle, the best of which include “Happy and Free,” “Tell Moses,” “Come What May,” and “You’re Right (I’m Wrong).” Colvin is almost as well-known for her choices of cover material as she is for her originals. She and Earle selected interesting tunes to reinterpret, including Emmylou Harris’ “Raise the Dead” and the We Five’s “You Were on My Mind.”
Despite her complicated reputation, Barbra Streisand has made a career of recording duets with a fascinating array of collaborators including Kris Kristofferson, Neil Diamond, Donna Summer, Barry Gibb, Celine Dion, Don Johnson, Judy Garland, and even herself (!). A sequel of sorts to Streisand’s 2014 duet disc Partners, Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway (Columbia) finds the diva teaming up with an assortment of film (and stage) actors to sing songs from the theater. The most successful couplings are among the most unexpected, including Melissa McCarthy (“Anything You Can Do”), Alec Baldwin (“The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened to Me”), Seth MacFarlane (“Pure Imagination”), Patrick Wilson (“Loving You”), and Jamie Foxx (“Climb Ev’ry Mountain”). The opening threesome “At the Ballet,” on which Streisand is joined by Anne Hathaway and Daisy Ridley, is also a standout.
Possibly the most exhilarating rock/rap collabs since Gorillaz, Anything But Words (Warner Brothers) by Banks & Steelz (Paul Banks of Interpol and RZA of Wu-Tang Clan) opens with the huge “Giant,” a smart and political call to action. Songs such as “Speedway Sonora,” “Love and War,” and “Ana Electronic” emphasize hip-hop and dance-rock’s connections to clubland. These innovative collaborators even invited others to join the party, including Florence Welch (on “Wild Season”) and Kool Keith (“Sword in the Stone”). Anything But Words is a thrill ride from start to finish.
The timing of The Minus 5’s Of Monkees and Men (Yep Roc) couldn’t have been better with the release of Good Times!, the first new album by the remaining Monkees (Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork) in 20 years. Led by Scott McCaughey (of Young Fresh Fellows), The Minus 5 (which also includes R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Mike Mills, among others) is an unabashed celebration of the “Pre-fab Four,” from the near-epic opener “Michael Nesmith” and “Davey Gets the Girl” to “Song for Peter Tork” and “Micky’s a Cool Drummer,” as well as “Boyce and Hart” (a song for the Monkees’ songwriters). Even if you are new to the cult of the Monkees, Of Monkees and Men will make a daydream believer of you.
A pair of über-hipster supergroups also joins the ranks of collaborators with two newly released albums. If Minor Victories’ (Rachel Goswell of Slowdive, Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai, Justin Lockey of Editors, and Justin’s brother James) intention is to haunt us with the 10 songs on its first album (from Fat Possum), then it has succeeded. “Breaking My Light,” “A Hundred Ropes,” “Folk Arp,” “The Thief,” “Cogs,” and “Out to Sea” do the trick.
Similarly, the seven psychedelic folk songs on the self-titled Sub Pop disc by Heron Oblivion (Meg Baird of Espers, Noel von Harmonson of Six Organs of Admittance, Ethan Miller of Comets on Fire, and Charlie Saufley of Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound) have the same effect as those by Minor Victories. However, Heron Oblivion tends more toward controlled freak-out, especially on “Beneath Fields,” “Oriar,” “Faro,” and “Your Hollows.”
Finally, Dave Stewart, of Eurythmics fame, joins Thomas Lindsey to form the bluesy two-sy Stewart Lindsey on the album Spitballin’ (Membran).
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.