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

Arts and Entertainment
music

Arts and Entertainment
Creep show: Tim Cockerill in ‘Spider House’

TVEnough to make ardent arachnophobes think twice

Arts and Entertainment
Steven, Ella Jade and Sarah in the boardroom
tvThe Apprentice contestants take a battering from the business mogul
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Jewel in the crown: drawings from ‘The Letter for the King’, an adventure about a boy and his mission to save a medieval realm
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
    Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

    11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

    Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
    Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

    Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

    The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
    Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

    The school that means business

    Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
    10 best tablets

    The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

    They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
    Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

    Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

    The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
    Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

    Pete Jenson's a Different League

    Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
    John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
    The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

    The killer instinct

    Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
    Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

    Clothing the gap

    A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain