Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones sing The Everly Brothers

Unusual duets are all the rage now, but this one of the strangest

Whether it is Nick Cave threatening Kylie Minogue with a rock or Mark Lanegan grizzling beside Isobel Campbell’s dulcet tones, duets have become all about beauty meets the beast. Now, though, a fresh collaboration reminds us of a different style – combination rather than contrast.

In one of the most unlikely pairings in pop , Billie Joe Armstrong from fluorescent pop punks Green Day has teamed up with Norah Jones, the winsome daughter of Ravi Shankar known for her honeyed voice and taste for country and supper-club jazz. Even more surprising, perhaps, is how their voices mesh together.

Rather than having male growl contrast with a lighter female reply, Armstrong and Jones create uncannily compatible harmonies, a fine tribute to the Everly Brothers that inspired their album of traditional songs with the wince-inducing title Foreverly. In doing so, they reinvigorate a style of vocal pairing seemingly forgotten in favour of more abrasive juxtapositions. Such call-and-response duos themselves have a long history, sounding all the more dramatic when a gruff bass comes up against an airy alto, though often it is the cutting jibes that are more important, as when Carla Thomas bests Otis Redding on “Tramp’”

Likewise, in country, the rough-voiced cowboy regularly gets to flirt, argue, or both, with his other half, nowhere more effectively than Johnny Cash and June Carter in 1967 on “Jackson’” a year before he proposed to her. Such a style has had a huge impact on vocalists down the years, as with The Pogues teaming up with Kirsty MacColl on the deathless “Fairytale of New York”, though these couplings tended to be one-offs until the Americana and folk revivals encouraged artists to celebrate the form across whole albums. Indeed, one of prolific grunge survivor Lanegan’s most productive partnerships has been with Campbell, a former member of Belle & Sebastian. They first came together on an EP in 2004 and have since put out three albums, beginning two years later with the Mercury-shortlisted Ballad of the Broken Seas. Another long-running partnership has developed between film actor and now TV star Zooey Deschanel with Portland, Oregon-based singer/songwriter M Ward. Since they first came together as She & Him in 2008, her cuteness and his drier contributions have been heard on a trio of albums up to this year’s Volume 3 plus a Christmas collection. Other artists have entered the fray more sparingly, as when The Horrors’ Faris Badwan joined up with Canadian soprano Rachel Zeffira on the pop-noir of their Cat’s Eyes outing on the 2011 album of the same name.

Such works are a world apart from the smug, self-serving projects where bankable stars, usually past their prime, call in favours from across the music world, leading to erstwhile friends dialling in performances – literally, as technology enabled remote interaction in virtual studios. Think Bono’s attempted croon on “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” with Frank Sinatra from the latter’s 1993 Duets album, preceding the U2 frontman’s later appearance on Tony Bennett’s less hokey 2006 effort, Duets: An American Classic. Not that all such albums lack artistic merit. One of the most enjoyable collaborative works of recent years has been Kate Rusby’s 20.

That double album featured a range of duets, with contrasting contributions from the likes of Paul Weller and Nic Jones beside more complementary cameos provided by Eddi Reader and Jim Causley. These were a reminder of the importance of close harmonies to folk, a tradition continued in recent years by various permutations of the Waterson/Carthy families, most recently when Eliza Carthy got together with her mum Norma Waterson and Northumberland’s Unthanks. Similar sisterly combinations can be heard stateside from the Watson Twins and Secret Sisters.

For a male equivalent, you really have to go back to the American brothers whose peak years spanned the late Fifties and early Sixties. The Everlys’ baritone/tenor combination helped make them two of rock’n’roll’s longest-lasting stars. Their sound continued to resonate as an influence on Simon & Garfunkel’s stylings, and earlier this year Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Dawn McCarthy came out with What the Brothers Sang, a tribute to the pair that spanned hits such as “So Sad” and numbers from their later  country period.

Now Armstrong and Jones have got in on the act with their own version of the Everlys’ 1958 album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, a selection of traditional tunes the siblings knew from childhood that had been popularised by the likes of Gene Autry and Tex Ritter. Anyone familiar with Green Day’s skate-punk output will be impressed by how well Armstrong gels with his partner on the currently streaming “Silver Haired Daddy of Mine” or “Long Time Gone”.

It was a call that came out of the blue for Jones as the pair had met at the 2005 Grammy Awards when they contributed to a car-crash rendition of The Beatles’ “Across The Universe” with Stevie Wonder and (him again) Bono, among others, though it was Armstrong’s wife who suggested Jones when he discovered the original album and first mooted the idea of introducing it to a wider audience. He told Stereogum that working with a female vocalist would give a different flavour. “I really wanted to do it with a woman singing because I thought it would take on a different meaning,” he said. “Maybe broaden the meaning a little bit – as compared to hearing the songs being sung by the two brothers.”

Contemporary R’n’B, though, appears to have lost the duet habit, whether the harmonious Sam & Dave style or the sassy verse/response sub-genre that Stax Records owned for much of the Sixties. Now singers are happy to guest on tunes by rappers or vice versa with cameos that have little if any connection to the actual track they appear on. If it takes a Californian punk and a fellow Everly Brothers fan to show what they are missing, things have gone very wrong.

Billie Joe and Norah’s ‘Foreverly’ is out now

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition