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Real Gone’s Duos, Reviewed: Tom Jans and Mimi Fariña, Chet Atkins and Les Paul, Barbara and Ernie

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Tom JansReal Gone Music has recently released three very different albums from three duo acts, and we’re looking at each one of them!

Tom Jans is perhaps best known today as the songwriter of “Loving Arms,” so memorably recorded by Elvis Presley in 1973 and also cut by everyone from Etta James to Kenny Rogers.  But in his tragically short lifetime – he died in 1984, aged 35 or 36 depending on the source – Jans also recorded five albums as a singer-songwriter.  His first two, including an album of duets with Mimi Fariña, have been reissued on one CD by Real Gone (RGM-0132).

Jeffrey Shurtleff introduced Jans to Joan Baez, who in turn introduced Jans to her younger sister Fariña.  Mimi was seeking a return to music after her second failed marriage; her first, to Richard Fariña with whom she had recorded a series of folk LPs, ended when he perished in a motorcycle accident.  Jans was an ideal collaborator, and their harmonious blend earned them a following in and around the Bay Area.  They toured with Cat Stevens and James Taylor before signing to A&M for 1971’s Take Heart, the first of the two albums on Real Gone’s new CD.

For their album debut, Jans and Fariña enlisted three-fourths of the famed Section of L.A. musicians: Craig Doerge on piano, Leland Sklar on electric bass and Russ Kunkel on drums.  Another session pro, Jim Keltner, filled Kunkel’s chair on some tracks; “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow also contributed pedal steel to one track.  The album crafted by this core band under the aegis of “the other” Michael Jackson as producer is a tender, soft, folk-style affair, anchored by Jans and Fariña’s tight harmonies and acoustic guitars.  Every song was written by Jans, Fariña, or the two artists in tandem, save one.

The album opens with the lyric “Carolina’s on my mind,” except in Jans’ song “Carolina,” the title refers to a woman, not a state (or a state of mind).  It’s just the first of the character studies on Take Heart.  On “Charlotte,” Fariña’s pure, crystalline voice, so reminiscent of her sister Joan Baez’s, is enhanced by Edgar Lustgarten’s cello for a story of a girl who’d “like to see her sister take a fall, up, up on a stage, where the whole world could see.”  If any parallels – intentional or otherwise – bothered Baez, she didn’t let on, and supported her sister by recording the album’s “In the Quiet Morning” for her own A&M album.  Mimi’s song was a eulogy for Janis Joplin (“That poor girl, she cried out her song so loud/It was heard the whole world ‘round…”), but it wasn’t the only tribute to fallen friends.  Mimi also wrote “Reach Out,” subtitled “For Chris Ross,” who was “so lonesome that he died.”  She tempers the song with the encouraging chorus: “Reach out, make a little contact/Reach out, send a little love!/You may think this life is trying, but this is it, so do the best with it/’Cause for now, it’s all you’ve got…”  The country-flecked “Letter to Jesus” shows off the duo’s gorgeous vocal blend at its most lovely, while “After the Sugar Harvest” features just their shimmering acoustic guitars.  Clearly both Jans and Fariña enjoyed the sound of country duos; the album’s lone cover is Buck Owens’ “The Great White Horse,” which Owens sang with Susan Raye.

After the jump: more on Tom Jans, plus reviews of Chet Atkins and Les Paul, and the jazz-pop-R&B team of Barbara (Massey) and Ernie (Calabria)! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 7, 2013 at 14:46