Every few years there is a splashy duets album that comes out that is all the rage. Duets are fun. The blending of favorite artists in musical fellowship can be a whole new way to see or hear both of them.
I have a favorite Duets album, "The Carme McRae Betty Carter Duets, Live at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco," recorded in 1987. I had this album as a teenager. I remember playing it out, absorbing every single note. Still, when I listen to this album I am blown away at its sublime potency.
What makes this album so incredible? First, there is the textural contrast between Carter's and McRae's voices. With Carter's ethereal highs and McRae's earthy lows, they offer a robust sound that conjures a sense of balance, not unlike the relationship between heaven and earth. Second, they draw us in with their hip and natural exchanges, totally at ease in their singular individuality, and their palpable joy and respect for each other shine through every song. This album is two masters at play, sharing and expounding on each other's wisdom. It is a pleasure to take it in. Unlike so many duet albums that can age, these arrangements are timeless and just as fresh and relevant today as they were when this album was first released. I attribute that to its musical eloquence and absolute authenticity. Authenticity in art never ages. There is no varnish on this album. If you don't know this album, I invite you to listen, and please let me know what you think in the comments below.
Another famous duets album featuring Betty Carter
Betty Carter did two famous duet albums. Below is the one with Ray Charles in 1961. This is also one of my favorites.