Since so many of its songs are singalongs or romantic narratives, country music seems all but designed for duets. John Prine may be best known as a versatile singer-songwriter in the tradition of Bob Dylan, but there can be little mistaking just how connected his new In Spite Of Ourselves is to classic country. A collection of some of Prine's favorite country songs (with one hilarious Prine original, the title track), In Spite Of Ourselves is made up almost entirely of duets with high-profile female voices. Lucinda Williams shines on "Wedding Bells/Let's Turn Back The Years," while the ubiquitous Emmylou Harris chimes in on "I Know One." Melba Montgomery and Dolores Keane get two tries each, and superstars Trisha Yearwood and Patty Loveless find good opportunities to sing material that's more authentic than what the Nashville machine usually demands. Sharing four songs with Prine is the capable and always welcome Iris DeMent, who dives right into Prine's crude relationship elegy. This timeless disc, released on Prine's own label, is so laid-back and good-spirited that it's nearly impossible to resist, like a jukebox packed with never-before-played classics. Buddy Miller's third album Cruel Moon isn't a collection of duets, per se, but Miller is familiar with the terms of creative collaboration. A renowned Nashville songwriter and studio musician, he's backed up both Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle on tour and recorded with his equally talented wife Julie. The couple wrote most of Cruel Moon, but even though he generally sings the songs himself, Miller enlists likeminded friends for support. Along with Miller's wife, the album features the vocals of Earle, Joy Lynn White, Jim Lauderdale, and (once again) Emmylou Harris, all of whom add distinct flavors to the dark tales of love and woe. An impressive guitarist, Miller keeps himself in check, lending songs such as "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger?," "I'm Too Used To Lovin' You," and "Somewhere Trouble Don't Go" an eerie, soulful, simmering power that makes mincemeat out of most mainstream country.

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