By Annie Reuter and Kurt Wolff
Country music has a long list of revered duets. From Tim McGraw and Faith Hill to Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood—and back to pairs such as Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn and, of course, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash—many of country’s biggest artists (some of whom were and are actually married) have sung the most romantic songs in the genre.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, we take a look at some of country’s most romantic duets. Some are from names you recognize; a few are from newcomers, but we believe the songs stand up alongside the classics.
Add them to your playlist for a perfect Valentine’s Day evening…or a date night anytime.
Carrie Underwood shines on this heartfelt ballad that describes how she wants to get away with her love and have him all to herself instead of sharing him at a crowded party. While Sam Hunt provides backing vocals throughout the song, it is when they perform “Heartbeat” live at festivals and the 2016 GRAMMY Awards that their chemistry shone through. The song was no longer solely from Underwood’s point of view; it became a shared love story between the two singers. On “Heartbeat,” Underwood and Hunt’s vocals blend flawlessly together and has the listener hoping for another collaboration.
11. “Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart” – Shenandoah and Alison Krauss
A tale of two people on a long quest for love only to finally find it between each other, “Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart” is a beautiful ballad that paints the picture of the beginnings of a relationship. Released in 1994 as the first single from Shenandoah’s album In the Vicinity of the Heart, the song struck a chord with country fans and critics alike. “Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart” won a GRAMMY Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals in 1995 and was a Top 10 hit; it’s easy to see why with poignant storytelling and Krauss’ ethereal vocals.
10. “From This Moment On” – Shania Twain and Bryan White
Shania Twain began writing “From This Moment On” while at a soccer game with her then-husband and producer Mutt Lange, who loves sports. As the story goes, Twain’s mind drifted and she began writing the song. When she sat down with Lange to finish the song they decided it would be perfect for a duet and Bryan White was eventually added to the track that was released in 1998. A popular wedding song in the late ’90s, “From This Moment On” continues to survive the test of time.
9. “If I Could Bottle This Up” – George Jones/Shelby Lynne
Written by Paul Overstreet and Dean Dillon, “If I Could Bottle You Up” is a fun, playful song paying tribute to what’s lovely about your significant other—and wondering if there’s a way to take all that goodness and package it somehow (“I could sell everybody in town what I been feeling”). George Jones cut the song in 1988 with then-newcomer Shelby Lynne, who was only 19 and still more than a decade away from her breakthrough album, the awesome country-soul collection I Am Shelby Lynne. It was Lynne’s first commercial recording, but she holds her own very well next to a guy who was, and is, considered one of popular music’s finest vocalists.
Reba originally intended to record this song with Kenny Rogers but their voices just never fit the song. She eventually asked Vince Gill to assist on harmonies until her producer suggested they make it a duet. The song made it all the way to No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart for two weeks. A song that celebrates long lost love, Reba and Gill sing of seeing each other across the room and realizing that while they’ve been trying to live their lives without each other, the heart won’t lie.
7. “Mutineer” – Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires
Unless you’re a die-hard Warren Zevon fan, you probably haven’t heard this song. But…wow. The late Zevon (the guy behind quirky hits like “Werewolves of London”) wrote it, and his own version was certainly moving, but in the hands of Americana stalwarts Amanda Shires and her husband Jason Isbell, it became transcendent. It’s a song of a deep, deep kind of love, a connection between souls that (sorry, Valentine’s Day) has nothing to do with flowers and candy. Isbell and Shires just released a new commercial recording of the song, by the way, as part of a two-track Sea Songs EP that includes another interesting cover, Lykke Li’s “I Follow Rivers.”
6. “When You Say Nothing At All” – Keith Whitley and Alison Krauss
The odd thing about this duet is that it’s completely manufactured. And by that we mean, Keith Whitley and Alison Krauss never actually sang the song together—Whitley wasn’t even alive when it began circulating among country fans in the late 1990s. But that doesn’t make it any less powerful.
Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz wrote “When You Say Nothing at All,” but the song didn’t see the light of day until Whitley—then an upstart Nashville artist—heard it, was captivated and jumped at the chance to cut it. His version hit No. 1 in 1988. His promising career was sadly cut short just a year later, however, when he died of alcohol poisoning. Krauss recorded her version of the song in 1995, and it became her first-ever Top 10 hit. Soon after, a crafty DJ in Milwaukee got the idea to combine the two versions to create a duet. It caught on with listeners and at other stations around the country, never charting or getting an official release, but gaining plenty of fans. And for good reason: While both original versions are solid on their own, there’s a new kind of magic that happens when their voices are combined. So while the duet itself may be “manufactured,” the emotions it produces are entirely real.
5. “If I Were a Carpenter” – Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash
Johnny and June took their widely popular version of Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter” (which he’d performed at Woodstock, by the way) to No. 2 on the country charts in 1970. It’s a fun song, and more than a little quirky as “love duets” go, but true, honest love is most certainly the song’s central premise and source of inspiration. The male character asks a series of questions, wondering if the woman would still love him if he was a blue-collar type (carpenter, miller, tinker) and she was “a lady.” Her answer? Most certainly. “I gave you my onlyness,” June sings, “Give me your tomorrow.”
4. “Let It Be Me,” Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow
In 2002, Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow shared the stage for an episode of CMT Crossroads, and among the songs they chose to sing together was this Everly Brothers classic. Curiously, though, the song has even deeper origins. It was originally a French love song titled “Je t’appartiens,” written by Pierre Delanoë and Gilbert Bécaud, and recorded by Bécaud in 1955. The Everlys released their version in 1960, turning it into a Top 10 pop hit. The song has been recorded dozens of times since then, by artists across genres including Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Nancy Sinatra and, in 1982, Nelson. When Nelson and Crow teamed up for the Crossroads taping, this song must have felt like a natural choice. Their voices blend beautifully on what is still one of the modern era’s most delicate, finely crafted love songs.
After harmonizing on each other’s records for years, in 1997 Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood released their first duet together. The beautiful love song details how a couple sees each other in their lover’s eyes. “In another’s eyes/I’m afraid that I can’t see/This picture perfect portrait/That they paint of me,” they sing. A sign of what was to come from the future husband and wife, the singers began dating in 2000 and married five years later.
This stripped-down 2007 single from Tim McGraw and Faith Hill showcases the married couple’s voices at their best. Trading verses with nothing but an acoustic guitar, the music video fittingly accompanies the slowed ballad as the two share a microphone while candles surround them. It’s the perfect addition to a quiet romantic dinner at home or a drive around town.
1. “When the Right One Comes Along” – Striking Matches
This relatively new Nashville duo, made up of Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis, has seen much success before the release of their debut album with over 35 performances at the Grand Ole Opry and their music being selected on the television drama Nashville. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Striking Matches released a video of them performing their song “When the Right One Comes Along.” The poignant song details how one’s life changes when they meet the right one. “It’s so easy, there’s nothing to it/ Though you may not believe me now/ But I promise, that you’ll find out when the right one comes along/ All that changes, is only everything/ When the right one comes along,” they sing. Play this song for the special someone in your life; we’ll bet they’ll appreciate it.