The Odd Couple—and Their Unexpectedly Beautiful Music
Jack White and Loretta Lynn
Van Lear Rose(2004)
Loretta Lynn was a 70-year-old woman, albeit a country music legend, when she received the surprising news that garage rockers The White Stripes had dedicated their breakthrough albumWhite Blood Cellsto her. The unexpected news led to an even more unexpected collaboration, 2004's Van Lear Rose, an album produced by White Stripes leader Jack White. White's slide guitar work stomps all over every song, and Lynn sounds more invigorated and engaged than she had in decades. Together they virtually invented a new musical genre—garage country.
Bettye Lavette and The Drive-By Truckers
The Scene of the Crime(2007)
Bettye Lavette is a veteran African American soul singer and a survivor of the mean streets of Detroit. The Drive-By Truckers are a southern rock band from Alabama, heirs to the sounds of The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The backgrounds suggest irreconcilable differences, not only musically, but culturally. But these aren't the good ol' boys of the '70s, and Muscle Shoals, the meeting ground of these very different artists, has been the scene of some of the greatest soul music ever recorded. The resulting album, 2007's The Scene of the Crime, is a neo-soul masterpiece; Lavette's anguished, raw vocals colliding with a rock band hitting on all cylinders.
This list, of course, reflects my personal preferences. Your list probably looks different from mine, and that's part of a worthwhile ongoing musical conversation. But surprise and incongruity have always been hallmarks of good music, from Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, whose jagged rhythms and atonal discord actually caused riots at its Paris premiere, to Enigma's inspired merger of hip-hop beats and pious monks intoning Gregorian chants. The unexpected always elicits a strong response. Not everyone loves it, but no one emerges without a reaction.
Keith Richards and Aaron Neville stand within a proud albeit strange tradition: who would'a thunk it? Fortunately for us, someone did