Country/folk artists Steve Earle, Shawn Colvin team up

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle’s new joint tour and album are the products of nearly three decades of mutual admiration.

The folk and country singer-songwriters, both acclaimed artists in their own right, released the LP “Colvin and Earle” last month. Their national tour will stop at the Sound Board July 29. The two originally met in 1987, when Colvin opened a show for Earle in Northampton, Massachusetts. Earle says he immediately recognized a kindred spirit.

“I knew what I was looking at: the same thing as I am,” he says. “She’s a folksinger. It’s always been important to me to preserve this skill set of being able to go out with one instrument and entertain an audience, and it’s important to her too.”

The two didn’t keep in touch much immediately after that gig, partly because Earle descended into drug addiction in the late ’80s and early ’90s. However, he recalls hearing Colvin’s cover of his song “Someday” on her album “Cover Girl” – released in 1994, the same year Earle was arrested for heroin possession.

“That was sort of one of the little points of light that reached this dark place where I was,” he says.

Earle went to rehab, got clean and occasionally joined Colvin to play “Someday” when their paths crossed at music festivals and other events. However, Earle says, “I didn’t have her number in my phone and she didn’t have my number.” That changed when Colvin invited Earle to tour as a duo with her in 2014 — a formula that had proven enjoyable for her with other artists, including Mary Chapin Carpenter and Patty Griffin.

Earle says he was struck by how well his and Colvin’s voices intertwined on a broader variety of songs, prompting him to propose that they record together. Over the past two years, the two got together for three co-writing sessions, one of them in a Nashville hotel during the 2014 tour. They exchanged other song ideas via text messages while on tour separately, developing a co-writing style that Earle describes as “every way you could skin a cat imaginable.”

The resulting album features six Colvin and Earle originals and four covers — two covers suggested by Earle, two by Colvin. In addition to Ian and Sylvia’s “You Were On My Mind,” Earle contributed the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday,” which he says he “played tennis racket to” before he ever learned to play guitar.

Earle says he and Colvin hope to co-write more songs while on tour this summer and that they “fully intend” to continue recording and performing as a duo after this year’s tour.

“It’s like a version of my day job, but I don’t have complete responsibility and I don’t have complete control of it either,” he says. “That’s good for me. I have to do a lot of things differently when I’m in a group with somebody else who I respect so that we stay friends in the process.”

Of course, there is the occasional conflict between the two. Earle says he and Colvin “butted heads” once during the recording process.

“It was just about her bringing in a bridge for a song (‘You’re Still Gone’) that I had decided was finished,” he says. “I was right, but I also thought at the time that bridges shouldn’t exist, and I’ve written a song with a bridge since.”

Now that’s partnership.

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

Colvin and Earle

8 p.m. July 29

Sound Board

2901 Grand River, Detroit

Tickets: $30-$50

(313) 309-4614