Picture a musical duet. Who’ve you conjured? Rogers/Easton? Streisand/Gibb? Cher/Bono? Travolta/Newton? Ross/Richie? It’s not a pretty picture, is it? Simply put, the duet doesn’t have much artistic currency, at least in pop and rock, where it’s usually used to generate sticky-sweet songs that guarantee gluttonous record sales.
Well here is an album, and a show (tonight!) at the S.B. Bowl, that spits in the faces of both Duet-as-Star-Vehicle and Duet-as-Soul-Enhancer. Somehow, the guy responsible for one of the catchiest rock songs ever, “Money for Nothing,” and the woman who has graced more country and roots albums than anyone, have put together a collection of songs that sound like the work of a cohesive, long-standing band. And while All the Roadrunning won’t catapult Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris to any platinum stardom, this album will long be a standard of how to make a duet album work.
If you get yourself to the Bowl tonight, June 29, you’ll dazzle at the inimitable guitar and vocal work of Knopfler, twinning with Harris’s gorgeous, lilting voice. Harris largely plays a harmony role, but even in the role of “support,” you can’t imagine these songs sounding as good without her presence. Best of all, you won’t have to worry about a night-long battle of preening mega-stars hogging the spotlight “together,” looking dolefully into each others’ eyes, acting out roles in a bunch of cornball songs. These are real performers, on stage because they love making timeless music. Sure, you’ll hear a Dire Straits chestnut or two, and maybe Harris’s classic “Red Dirt Girl,” but don’t go for the individuals. Go for the connection, the collaboration — things all too rare in duets.