A beautiful thing happens when a song has close vocal harmonies. Besides a pleasing sound, many times you hear not two voices, but one. It becomes hard to distinguish who is singing what part, the lead or the harmony. Think of the Everly Brothers of the 1950s or The Mamas & The Papas of the 1960s, whose four-part harmonies seemed to create a “fifth voice.” The new album from Dave Gunning and J.P. Cormier, Leather And Dust, is an example of what can be accomplished when you create close two-part harmonies.
“That’s one of the things we worked the hardest at,” said J.P. as he and Dave were driving to Milwaukee, WI recently. “We’d find ourselves getting into arguments, when listening back to what we recorded, about who’s singing what part. It’s so close you can’t tell our voices apart sometimes, which is really cool because our voices are so different. I think it’s the magic of mixing them together, which Dave did.”
Leather and Dust is the follow-up album to Dave and J.P.’s first album, 2017’s Two, and expands the format of just their two voices and two guitars to include the multitude of other instruments each plays.
“We’ve been singing together for so long J.P. naturally finds the cracks in the melody, and I’m doing the same with him,” said Dave. “It’s the same when we’re playing guitar. Sometimes we’ll really come together, and it’s hard to tell them apart. It’s something we’ve been aware of. It comes a little easier now I guess with time for some reason.”
The pair have known each other for close to 30 years ever since Dave hired J.P. to fill in for a fiddle player who couldn’t make a gig. Since then, they’ve toured supporting Stompin’ Tom Connors, written songs together, which they’ve featured on their individual albums and played on each other’s projects. At this point, they refer to each other as their “battle brother.” This current cross-Canada tour, with a couple of American dates, is the longest one they’ve embarked on, and for J.P., it’s already taking somewhat of a toll on his body.
“My stomach is so sore today from laughing that I can barely sit here,” he said. “My abdominal muscles are trying to go into a charley horse cause I’ve laughed so hard!”
Leather And Dust is a mix of Dave and J.P. originals, and songs from a diverse range of artists such as The Killers, The Alan Parsons Project and Tom Pacheco. The album title was chosen before they even had a song with that phrase in it.
“We were trying to come up with album titles,” Dave explained. “And I threw it out there thinking it sucked. But J.P. liked that title! I stole the line from one of my own songs, 'Dr. Lonecloud', off my Same Storm record. The song could be about us, it could be about farmers, it could be about struggles. It’s about pounding and getting through life, sticking together and working hard.”
As with their first collaboration, Leather And Dust features a song by Stompin’ Tom Connors. In this case, it’s 'Twice As Blue', and it’s given an interpretation very different from Tom’s original.
“I think Tom would have done it that way if he had more of a pallet to choose from when he was developing his own style,” said J.P. “He grew up listening to Hank Snow and Wilf Carter so that’s what he worked with. Tom was such a tremendously dramatic writer but he never bothered to go any further than that with the presentation. He was a brilliant narrator. He knew how to get the story across really hard and fast. If he’d have had other wherewithal, I think some of his lesser-known songs would have become incredible ballads. It just boggles the mind at what kind of poet he actually was.”
'Here’s To Nova Scotia' is a celebration of the province both performers love, and it would be great for a provincial tourism ad campaign as the song describes its beauty. But it came as a result of one of the province’s darkest hours: the Portapique mass shootings in 2020.
“We wrote that song not too long after the shootings,” said Dave. “We were talking about how Nova Scotia could use a happy song. That’s all we intended to do with it, a celebratory song for the province because we love it there.”
Choosing some of the cover songs on Leather And Dust came from get-togethers the two friends would have where they’d play favourite songs for each other, such as 'Eye In The Sky'.
“Well I’ve always been a huge fan of The Alan Parsons Project,” stated J.P.
“Yeah, we all grew up listening to that music,” Dave added. “We’re all children of the 80s. J.P. came over one night with a couple of growlers of beer and said, ‘Let’s record this!’ and we did in about two or three hours.”
The reception for Leather And Dust has been positive from the get-go and is creating a buzz the duo hasn’t experienced before.
“We’re actually doing more work together than we are apart this year, which is a first,” said J.P. “We’re just happy to be doing this. I’m celebrating 41 years in the business this year and Dave’s not far behind me. To still be doing this at this level after all these years is pretty awesome. That’s all we think about. Just play the music and have fun.”
For more on Dave Gunning and J.P. Cormier and Leather And Dust, go to gunningandcormier.com.