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Steve Earle, Shawn Colvin find common ground at Kauffman Center show

Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle sing during Wednesday’s performance at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle sing during Wednesday’s performance at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin entered the world of songwriting from different hemispheres.

Earle is a Texan who fell under the spell of country and folk troubadours like Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. Colvin is folkie with a clear appreciation for Joni Mitchell.

The two started touring together in 2014, which led to some recording sessions. In June, they released “Colvin & Earle,” a collection of new songs and covers in which they find some common ground.

On Wednesday night the duo performed in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, drawing a crowd of more than 500 and delivering the entire new album plus a mix of covers and some of their best-known solo songs.

It was a show with a mellow, coffeehouse vibe. Both played acoustic guitars; Earle switched to mandolin several times and added blues harp to a few songs.

They opened with a cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Susie,” which showcased the specific flavor of their harmonies: Earle’s craggy voice cheek-by-jowl with hers, which is pristine and tender.

They followed that with a song from their album, “Come What May,” a “dysfunctional love song,” as Earle put it, about people who “can’t live without each other, can’t take it anymore.”

Next came a string of covers: the Ian and Sylvia (Tyson) classic “You Were On My Mind”; “Raise the Dead,” an Emmylou Harris song; a mournful folk-rock rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday,” an excursion Earle compared with a visit to a fantasy camp; and an acoustic blues version of the John D. Loudermilk song ‘Tobacco Road,” which Colvin said she was introduced to by the Nashville Teens in the early 1960s.

There was plenty of banter and some storytelling and lots of tuning of instruments. Earle distinguished his bouzouki from his mandolin, though he said when he’s going through airports he calls it an “octave mandolin” because you don’t want to throw around the word “bouzouki” to airport security, especially when you’re sporting “a (bleeping) beard like mine.”

Before they sang Colvin’s “That Don’t Worry Me Now,” she admitted that many of her songs are “sad breakup songs” and called herself the “Taylor Swift of folk.” That song was inspired by a Martin Luther King documentary she watched on PBS, which prompted Earle to observe: “You never see Martin Luther King documentaries on Fox.”

Earle followed that with a story.

As he strummed the introduction to “Someday,” he recalled his earliest struggles as a songwriter and how attending a Bruce Springsteen show during his “Born in the USA” tour inspired him to write his breakthrough “Guitar Town” album.

He then chronicled his ascent into moderate fame and his descent into addiction, darkness and incarceration. The only two moments of light during that period, he said, were hearing that Harris had recorded “Guitar Town” and Colvin had recorded “Someday,” one of his best songs, which they then delivered with the appropriate amount of sincerity.

Each would deliver some of their most popular songs. After singing Earle’s “Burning It Down,” about torching a Wal-Mart, Colvin sang “Sunny Came Home,” a breakup song with arson in it — a murder ballad, Earle said.

Earle followed that with his Celtic-bluegrass anthem “The Galway Girl,” then they reeled off three more songs from their duo album, including “You’re Still Gone,” a lovely elegy about death and loss, which Earle dedicated to Guy Clark, who died in May.

They closed with a dandy version of the Beatles’ “Baby’s in Black,” then two of their own favorites.

Colvin sang “Diamond in the Rough,” which is also the title of her recent memoir. And almost begrudgingly, Earle sang the song for which he will forever be known, “Copperhead Road.”

Unlike the recorded version, which is loud and feral, this version was more wistful, issued from the confluence of two different but equally spirited voices.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Set list

Wake Up Little Susie; Come What May; You Were On My Mind; Raise the Dead; Ruby Tuesday; Tobacco Road; That Don’t Worry Me Now; Someday; The Way That We Do; You’re Right, I’m Wrong; Burnin’ It Down; Sunny Came Home; The Galway Girl; Happy and Free; Tell Moses; You’re Still Gone. Encore: Baby’s In Black; Diamond in the Rough; Copperhead Road.

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