The selection of Surry with the Fringe on the Top alongside Moonglow and Skylark are the first indications what to expect of Keeping It Simple and of the Judy Philbin / Adam Levine duet in a stripped-down environment that leans into a threesome when Levine simul-synchs himself on guitar. Normally, I'm a trifle skeptical of this ilk of music. F'rinstance, I just can't take Helen Reddy even though it's obvious she possesses a good voice, I'm ambivalent about Rita Coolidge, and can take or leave Carly Simon, who can be spectacularly good but usually dwells in the realm of the ultra-commercial. And I think that's the difference here: Keeping was motivated by a genuine love of the materials and form as well as a purity of stylistic approach. The crystalline beauty of Besame Mucho is a stand-out example, and Philbin invests it with respect and love while Levine's brief Spanish guitar solo phrasing here and elsewhere is interestingly mindful of Alan Shacklock's work in Babe Ruth…minus, of course, all the screaming distortion and stacked Marshalls. Chart prospects be damned, what's going on here with this pair is an exposition of plain ol', good ol', from-the-heart singing.
Judy Collins and Joan Baez are much more appropriate correllatives than Reddy, Coolidge, or Simon, but there are at times Leon Redbone leanings. Redbone's one of America's foremost connoissieurs of continental old-time musics, as is Ian Whitcomb, and it's clear Philbin has that same aesthetic leavened with a generous, perhaps even Doris Day-ish, affinity for later popular staples, as Blue Bayou indicates, another beatific rendering not far from Ronstadt's inimitable landmark. Judy, however, sheds Linda's searing intensity for a more countryesque mellifluity, Levine doubling it up behind her, both creating a wistful afternoon's lament rather than an opera house rafters-shaker.
Perhaps the most interesting cut, though, is Philbin's own gentle tough-love parting song, Don't be Easy on Me, a cure-all for those endless break-ups we later regret that we ever for a moment considered might be workable. I won't be a bit surprised if this song ends up, years from now, being a standard. It has that brilliant way with poetics that's so damnably difficult to frame without becoming cliché, overblown, or ridiculously stately. In fact, if this pair and their PR people want the best chance of any cut really sticking in the minds of listeners, that's the one…'cause I was still myself pondering the enigmatic honesty of it days later, after several listens right off the bat. I can't think of even three other songs quite like this one.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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