Jim Hurst
& Missy Raines,
(Pinecastle, 2000)

Here's a fine, laid-back album with an effective blend of bluegrass and old-time duet singing and picking. Jim Hurst plays guitar and Missy Raines plays bass, and the result is a minimalist sound of roots music stripped to the bone but seasoned with some contemporary spices.

Tim O'Brien, in his liner notes, says he loves duos, and so do I. From the Monroe Brothers to the Louvins to the classic album of Skaggs & Rice duets, two people picking and singing provides one of the purest expressions of musical art and, while not quite equaling those masterpieces, this album can proudly take its place in that legacy.

The leadoff track, "Small Southern Town," sets the stage nicely with a nostalgic picture of the way life used to be. "Once the Teardrops Start to Fall" really shows the difference between the duo format and commercial country. One of the many current Goobers in Hats would have slathered on the steel, the strings, the horns and the electric guitars, but Hurst and Raines keep it simple and lovely and downright elegant. Raines shines in the swing bass solo that begins "How Long Must I Wait For You," a delightful change of pace.

Kevin Welch is one of my favorite singer-songwriters, and the duo does a fine job with his "I'd Be Missing You," and follow it with a funky, slap-the-bass Raines tune called "Stinky Pye," which leaves the bluegrass realm for some sweet jazz. "Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid" is a gorgeous ballad by Martha P. Trachtenberg, and Raines gives it a superb reading, her voice subtly hinting at the pain underneath the touching lyrics. Things lighten up with the cleverly written "The Important Part of Fishin'," and the duo shows off a simpatico nature toward each other with the instrumental, "Two Funky for Rhythm."

Unfortunately, the pair doesn't blend as well vocally on "Fields of Carolina," and I was also somewhat disappointed by "Rhythm of 2 Hearts," in which it would have been nice to hear some harmony instead of Hurst singing purely solo. The lack is more than made up for, however, by "I Will Not Forget You," a lovely song with soaring, two-part harmonies. "You Ain't Down Home" is a slight misstep, since it sounds dated already, making fun of folks who use them new-fangled cell phones and such. It's cute, but unmemorable, more faux down-home than real. The CD closes well, with the boppish, funky "Nothing to Lose" and a lengthy instrumental, "Noche Romantica," on which both Hurst and Raines can stretch out and show off their musical chops.

Those chops are prolific, and their vocal blend will put a big grin on the face of anyone who loves duet singing in a bluegrass (and slightly beyond) vein. Missy Raines and Jim Hurst are two who don't need anyone else to make beautiful music.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 8 March 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.