The title of this compilation is a little deceptive in a couple of ways. It’s not exactly a collection of duets between Stewart and Howard, who are co-billed on just four of the eighteen tracks (including the small 1960 hit “Wrong Company”). And many aficionados of the early Bakersfield sound would argue that it doesn’t come close to covering much of the pair’s best stuff, especially as it has nothing from their recordings on Capitol.
It’s actually more of an odds and ends collection of items Stewart and Howard cut, together and (more often) separately, in Los Angeles for Challenge Records in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Stewart’s “Wishful Thinking” and “Big, Big Love”, plus Howard’s “The One You Slip Around With” (penned, like several of the cuts, by Jan’s hubby Harlan Howard), are the only substantial hits on board.
Still, if you do have a hankering for that small window of time in which honky-tonk, pop, rockabilly, and the rudiments of both the Bakersfield and Nashville sounds were combining in uneven and unpredictable ways, this ain’t a bad little disc at all. The way the singers and producers are aiming for a slight pop gloss on honky-tonk is tentative yet attractive, and that gloss does nothing to eradicate the steel guitar, fiddle and rock-solid slapbeats that put this firmly outside of the slicker brand of Nashville country-pop.
Jan Howard is no Patsy Cline, but she makes a pretty fair run at early-’60s-style Cline balladry on outings such as the early Roger Miller tune “A World I Can’t Live In”. Other semi-oddities of note: Stewart’s “Above And Beyond (The Call Of Love)”, covered by Buck Owens for a big 1960 hit; the corny duet “Yankee Go Home”, likewise covered for a hit by Goldie Hill and Red Sovine; and Stewart’s way-Buddy Holly-influenced “Uncle Tom Got Taught”.