Once there was a great tradition in country music of male harmony singing, one that’s nearly disappeared in recent decades.
The Everly Brothers, the Louvin Brothers and the Monroe Brothers were among the standouts of sibling harmony acts, while Johnnie & Jack and a few others proved conclusively that singers didn’t have to be family to sound like they were.
That’s part of the inspiration behind “Buddy and Jim,” the new collaboration between two of Americana music’s most respected singers and songwriters -- and longtime friends-- Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale coming out Tuesday.
Pop & Hiss has the exclusive premiere of one of the tracks from the new set, “That’s Not Even Why I Love You,” which Miller and Lauderdale wrote with some help from Buddy’s wife, Julie Miller.
Lauderdale, 55, said, “I thought [Buddy] needed to shine on that one. I wanted to hear him, and I enjoyed singing the harmony.”
The self-satisfaction aspect figured strongly into the whole project, Miller, 60, told Pop & Hiss.
“I hadn't heard a real male duets record in a while,” he said. “I wanted to hear one, so I made one. It's a tradition that somehow fell by the wayside -- and I don't know why.”
I once brought up the subject with Merle Haggard in 2006 when he and George Jones came together for “Kickin’ Out the Footlights…Again.” It was originally intended to be an album of duets, but wound up featuring Haggard singing a few of Jones’ best-known songs and Jones doing the same with some Haggard tunes, and the two of them harmonized only sporadically.
At the time, Haggard said the challenge they ran into was that “It’s hard to find material for two guys to sing without sounding gay—not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
Miller and Lauderdale mostly wrote new songs, sprinkled with some vintage classics including Johnnie and Jack’s “Down South in New Orleans,” the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Lonely One in This Town,” Flatt & Scruggs’ “The Train That Carried My Girl Away,” Joe Tex’s “I Want To Do Everything For You” and Jim McCracklin’s rollicking 1959 hit, “The Wobble.”
Lauderdale, who will be at the Grammy Museum on Tuesday for a screening of a new documentary about his career said, “Stylistically I think we both wanted this record to cover those bases of duet singing, mixing together the older string band styles from the Louvin Brothers, Johnnie & Jack and Sam & Dave.”
Miller also cited the great ‘60s R&B duo Sam & Dave along with “all the ‘brothers’ including the [Flying] Burrito Brothers—who sang like they were related,” among his sources of inspiration.
To Miller, the combination of two male voices creates something unlike any other.
“I'm not a big fan of most three-part harmony,” he said. “That third part bugs me. It kills the mystery. It's usually too sweet, and most of the freedom in the singing is gone in order to please ‘the harmony god.’ Guy-girl duets can get too sappy and melodramatic. Two guys have some meat, when you sing you can dig in and mean it. And two guys singing are not polite.”
Added Lauderdale, “I don't have a brother, but Buddy is like a brother. We’ve sung so much together through the years and I know his voice so well that it’s just a natural fit. It’s just kind of a subconscious thing about where to go, that it just works out.”
Listen to the duo's "That's Not Even Why I Love You" below.
Follow Randy Lewis on Twitter: @RandyLewis2