Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart 

Never Gonna Let You Go

Stacey Earle is Steve Earle's younger sister, and while she has toured with him and sung and played on his albums, her career is on an entirely different arc. Where Steve is dark, dangerous, and slightly crazed, Stacey is bright, friendly, and almost giddy. This is especially evident on Never Gonna Let You Go, her second album with husband, songwriting partner, and musical coconspirator Mark Stuart. Both singers have "untrained" voices, and that's a compliment. There are already too many boys and girls warbling in pitch-corrected Pro Tools perfection; Earle and Stuart sound like real folks singing real songs that have real meaning.

Never Gonna Let You Go is a luminous, feel-good album guaranteed to make you smile. Most of the tunes are love songs, but they're never monotonous, either musically or lyrically. "If You Want My Love" is a goofy celebration of courtship that combines the duo's playful vocals with a Creedence Clearwater guitar vamp, a Western swing rhythm, and a jug band kazoo break. "Lay Down" is Earle's cozy ode to the physical side of love that'll have you purring like a cat in a sunbeam. And on "Looking for Fool's Gold," Stuart serves up a punchy bit of folk rock to inform the object of his affection that the treasure she's seeking is "under her nose."

On every song, the two use different vocal techniques, pleading, growling, or laughing with delight while the backing musicians add plenty of grace notes to the inventive arrangements. On the ironically titled "When She's Having Fun," the viola and tock-tock percussion add drama to the tale of a woman dreaming of the love she never found in her youth. Finally, "Fishbowl" brings to mind a '30s novelty ballad with its swooping bass line and tack piano solo, while the title tune echoes the "beat music" of the British Invasion, but with a country twist that makes it, and the rest of this record, pure Earle and Stuart.


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