Duet Like You Mean It

Nina Nastasia and Jim White commingle their ethereal talents to craft one of the finest duet records in recent memory.

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by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: August, 2007
[Jim White's drumming] swarms around Nina's strained folky songs like a cloud of lovebugs.

Nina Nastasia and Jim White
You Follow Me
(FatCat)

The other day I was curious looking through the Conway Twitty catalog - and it is a curious path: look past "Hello Darlin'" and you find Conway played opposite Mamie van Doren in Sex Kittens Go To College and had an early minor rock hit called "I Vibrate" - and my mind went soft when I remembered his duets with Loretta Lynn. "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" played a lot on the AM country stations of my troubled youth. We are lousy with man/woman duos nowadays, but you don't come across many duets. Think Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks, Dolly and Porter, Rufus and Chaka Kahn - duets were steamy, kinda naughty, whereas man-und-wife duos seem to exercises in restrained tension like most of configurations of matrimony. Not mine, mind you, but most people's. (Hi honey...)

Duets are more than a guest star turn, in that they usually involve a whole album, usually anchored by a stormy hit, but here in the indie world, we don't do hits unless there is a bong attached. We find a pattern and work it, so enter indie duet Nina Nastasia and Jim White. Nina is one of those spooky indie women whose name you recognize more than her voice, but a dip into her back catalog, especially Dogs which deserved the slobbery praise producer Steve Albini and BBC lighthouse keeper John Peel gave it, will reap many a rarified reward. Jim White is the drummer for The Dirty Three, makers of the most beautiful music going that still has a toe in rock 'n' roll. If you don't know The Dirty Three, blacken your eye with a swift jab and get thee to a record store and buy whatever of theirs is in stock.

You Follow Me might not fit the usual format for a duet, in that Nina's voice is the only one heard, but Jim is not the ordinary drummer. A more learned muso than myself once informed me that Jim often plays ever close to the beat without ever hitting it, instead creating it out of negative space. OK. All I know his is the quietest thunderstorm that ever a drum kit has conjured, and it swarms around Nina's strained folky songs like a cloud of lovebugs. The songs flow into one another, and surely Nina's poetry is worth close scanning, but honestly it's the sound of this record that is so amazing. Nina plays her simple undulating guitar lines and sings her soul and Jim acts at the birds and crickets and earthquakes and tidal waves that happen around a woman.

The greatest moments are the aptly titled "Our Discussion" and "Odd Said the Doe" where the two get lost in the rock surf of their sonic coupling. Nina's "I don't believe" issues forth like a swell of cicadas issuing from the dark of the forest. It reminds me a lot of Joni Mitchell's Blue, where she gets lost in the dense thicket of the songs rather than striving to be heard against an over lush orchestration. You Follow Me manages to have an epic result rising from relatively stripped down origins. In other words, it is a sublime, triumphant listen.

Alex V. Cook
Music Editor

Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com

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