Collaborations That Should Happen, But Never Will

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- Simon Luedtke -

Everybody dreams of seeing their favorite artists come together to make something new. Even if they don’t entirely make sense, we can’t help but wonder just how great it would be to combine the voice of our top singer with the strings of our top guitarist. Better yet, the instrumentation of our number one band with the lyrics of our number one songwriter. Some of these dreams can never be, whether the bands are inactive, or are separated by genre or country. Nevertheless, these are some of my picks for five collaborations we want to see.

1. Lake Street Dive and Stoop Kids

This is a stretch, to be sure, as the bands are in wildly different places in their careers. Stoop Kids has three short albums under their belt and are just beginning to take hold of a niche listening group. Lake Street Dive, on the other hand, just released their fourth full length album and enjoying a wide appeal to critics and listeners alike. Lake Street Dive is led with might by Rachael Price, the band’s lead singer. Her voice is a guide through the band’s blended exploration of southern rock and indie pop. Known almost as well for their covers, the group possesses a unique talent for recompositions and bringing swinging soul into often forgotten classics. Active since the early 2000s, they have gathered a sizable following for their unique presence in the music community.

Stoop Kids is, to put it bluntly, wonderfully wacky. The quintet has delved into just about everything from hip-hop to doo-wop to surf rock in their discography. In their track “17:35,” one of their more well known pieces, the listener is met with this aggressive uniqueness. There is no denying the level of their energy nor the rawness of their musicianship. These boys have got whatever they’re doing made in the shade. Joining up with a more weathered and tonally focused group like Lake Street Dive would certainly be an experiment. Who knows what direction it could go. But you can’t listen to Side Pony (2016) and Already Out of Time (2015) and not tell me something clicks.

2. Sharon Jones and Mayer Hawthorne

Can you imagine? One of the brightest legends in the world of modern soul at long last doing a full collaborative project with one of the silkiest, smoothest voices in the industry? Unheard of. Sharon Jones' last album after her death, Soul of a Woman (2017) was one of the greatest of that year. She and the Dap-Kings started making music in the 1970s and certainly show no signs of slowing. Every album since 2000 has been a grander venture than the last. Jones’ voice alone can turn an audience into a choir. The backing of the punchy grooves that the Dap-Kings lay down seal the deal. The group never ceases to bring a smile to my face.

Mayer Hawthorne certainly holds less gravity than that of Sharon Jones, but his name does bring a certain playfulness. The blue-eyed soul artist has consistently composed some of the corniest, sexiest and most hilariously earnest tracks on love that I have ever heard. From “Get You Back” to “A Strange Arrangement,” the passion is there and the falsetto is flawless. Hawthorne can do no wrong in his soulful aspirations because he keeps us grinning. Even the ballads have a warmth and vitality to them that tug at the heartstrings almost gleefully. I can think of no better pair than to match Hawthorne up with Jones. I can’t imagine what would come of it, whether the two would cover an entire collection of James Brown or produce a whole lamentation of past lovers. All I know is I want to be there when it happens.

3. Gary Clark Jr. and Michael Kiwanuka

Gary Clark Jr. has already shown his chops as a collaborative artist. His recent single with Jon Batiste of Stay Human and Leon Bridges titled “Ohio” is beyond spectacular. He’s a guitarist of unparalleled skill and a lyricist to beat. His live performances are fabled to be transcendent. His stories of love, loss and identity are enough to make any heart sway. Following influences in blues, contemporary soul and hip-hop, Gary Clark Jr. has proven to be the musician who can do it all. The Donald Glover of guitarists, if you will. He even has a flair for the cinematic, with his work on the score of Deepwater Horizon (2016) being a prime example.

Michael Kiwanuka, on the other hand, seems to be in a state of perpetual reinvention. His indie folk debut album Home Again (2012) contrasts starkly with the fierce and empowering Love & Hate (2016). And some tracks on this project find new inspirations in the live recordings that came out last month.

The ‘latest Kiwanuka’ possesses a sort of wisdom in his music that provides a sense of justice and cultural omnipotence. He preaches oneness with his heritage and reveals the true divide the world experiences among people. Teaming up with Gary Clark Jr. would almost certainly continue and further this message. Conjuring roots in American and British folk/blues music, these two could very well bridge an important gap. A gap that exists between two countries that have collectively begun to forget their history.

4. Angel Olsen and Courtney Barnett

The world needs this right now. The goddess of alt country and the queen of grunge rock working together would send shockwaves through indieheads everywhere. Angel Olsen soared out of most listeners’ periphery and into the limelight with her sophomore album. Burn Your Fire For No Witness (2014) was a bold and exceptional work delving into seemingly inescapable loneliness. It resonated so well with people that it served as a jumping off point for her following two albums. Since then, Olsen has been bringing loud, unapologetic and gritty sound back into indie, with her own unique sensibility. MY WOMAN (2016), one of the finest albums of the decade, showed growth in voice, production and lyricism. Her hotshot nature as a singer songwriter will likely continue to propel her to new heights in the coming years.

Courtney Barnett is a gem. Though her music seems tamer, she finds much in common with Olsen’s sentiment on love and loneliness. Her 2015 album Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit adopts a stream of consciousness style in its lyrics to tantalizing effect.

She talks about travel, health problems, depression and more with such a passive passion. Her experience of the world is unlike any other. Every album gives us a glimpse into what she sees, and what she knows. She has collaborated before with Kurt Vile on the album Lotta Sea Lice (2017); a lovely piece about friendship. A partnership with Angel Olsen would be, needless to say, a powerhouse to reckon with. Olsen’s brute force behind the guitar and Barnett’s softer observational lyrics could make for a revolutionary project.

5. José González and Kings of Convenience

First things first, Kings of Convenience do not appear to be active. Releasing their latest album in 2009, the Norwegian folk duo Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe worked together for about a decade. Bøe has since broken off and formed his own group, Kommode, which released their first album last year. However, in 2016 the two announced that they did have enough material to put together a fourth album. Until that hopeful release, we are left with their first three albums. Their discography consisted of intricate acoustic guitar compositions, often supported by piano or violin. The true telling characteristic of Kings of Convenience, however, is the delicate vocal harmony of Øye and Bøe. Woven throughout each song is a tender and simple narrative, always possessing a certain kindness and nostalgia.

José González, the Argentinian folk singer from Sweden, would absolutely find a lot to talk about with this group. He is still very active, releasing four singles with The Brite Lites earlier this year. González has always been associated with the same kind of tenderness that KoC produces. His solo career also consists of three albums, each a unique acoustic endeavor largely dealing with his childhood. The more narrative structure of González’s work would play right into the more elaborate instrumentation of KoC. The result would be something to marvel, and even take a place in the folk history books, alongside Nick Drake’s Pink Moon and Elliott Smith’s Either/Or.

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