From My Grave EP (Loud + Clear)
Anyone who's seen John Meeks live knows that, while there are many highlights, the real sparks fly when the country troubadour asks Joanie Mendenhall to join him on stage. I won't get too grandiose with the comparisons (Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, George Jones and Dolly Parton, Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary -- OK, so I did, so what?), but I can claim with as much sincerity as a pissed-off Merle Haggard record that From My Grave is some of the best co-ed country duets I've heard in a long time.
Where Meeks' work may have seemed appropriately rough-around-the-edges in the past, Mendenhall not only brilliantly plays the proverbial yin to his yang, but she also brings the masterful sense of pop songcraft that she's displayed on her solo albums. This may be her best work yet, even if she isn't center stage.
The EP's lyrics rarely move past the standard hyperbole found in most country music. On paper, seemingly simple lines like “I can't bear to lose you tonight” and “You hold me close and I'll hold you closer” don't read as particularly brilliant. Then again, neither do lyrics to classic songs like “You Were Always on my Mind” and “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
Like the best country music, the songs demand that the listener look beyond the superficial -- the real magic is not in what's being said, but how it's being said.
From My Grave shows two distinguished yet underappreciated singer-songwriters at the top of their game. I can only hope that these five songs are a prelude of more to come.
John Meeks and Joanie Mendenhall will celebrate the release of From My Grave with Bryan John Appleby at Tin Can Ale House on Saturday, Sept. 3.