Saturday 14 December 2019

The unexpected duet

I listen to a lot of music, there is frequently something on in the background. Either a perennial favourite or something new. All very middle of the road of course, I am nothing if not boring. This frequently annoys the family, as I move from room to room leaving behind me something I have put on. I will be going back I say, and then after a while I don't and so put something one wherever it is that I am now. This is the joy of voice-activated smart home gubbins. If I had to stop and put a CD on I wouldn't. But I can simply say "Alexa, play some boring middle of the road music that the whole family will detest" and on it comes.

As long-time readers may know, I have a soft spot for country music. One of the things about the country music scene, perhaps more than any other, is the frequency of collaboration. Nashville-based musicians are constantly hopping into each other's studios, always popping up on each other's albums. You never quite know what you are going to get, and so when am playing a new album from someone I like there are frequently some wonderful surprises. Some of course work better than others, and a few of these really do something for me, almost in a tingling kind of way - you feel the hairs on the back your neck stand up. As an example try listening to "The Heart Won't Lie" by Reba McEntire and tell me that when Vince Gill comes in that you don't feel something.

OK, so probably it is just me, but - and this is not a word of a lie - it does it each and every time, just like the first time I heard it. I have no idea why that should be, it just happens. I have loads more examples - when Ruth Moody comes in on Mark Knopfler's "Wherever I go" on the album Tracker. Joni Mitchell's improvised backing vocals when Neil Young sings "Helpless" on The Band's Last Waltz. Alan Jackson on Zac Brown's "As She's Walking Away".  Embarrassingly, when Taylor Swift appears on Tim McGraw's "Highway Don't Care".....

Because I mostly listen to streamed music these days rather than having a CD in my hands, these duets almost always crop up unexpectedly the first time. You're humming along, getting along with whatever it is, and then out of the blue a new voice appears. If you can place that voice, as I often I can due to the aforementioned studio-hopping, then this is often for the trigger for something special. I'm genuinely surprised, "Oh, this is so-and-so isn't it?", and I listen that little bit more closely, become more absorbed, and the song becomes more memorable. Over time this must reinforce itself, especially the amount I replay music.


  1. I shouldn't probably tell you, but your family are all heading up here for their Xmas/New Year hols. Something about "there's only so many times you can listen to the same ol' Nashville Drivel in one lifetime" and "it's even playing in the downstairs loo fer feck's sake" (their quote, not mine. I'm just the messenger...) I'm sorry buddy, maybe they'll consider coming back after a few days of my Soulfly/Slipknot or Anthrax/Amy Grant albums?

    1. Based on that playlist I reckon they're actually pretty fortunate!