Phillips and Driver

Gretchen Phillips is an Austin, TX rocker whose pioneering lezzie-rock combo Two Nice Girls inspired the careers of countless riot grrrls. David Driver is a New York City crooner who knows all the side streets of the Great White Way and counts They Might Be Giants among his fans. These unlikely musical soulmates -- and all-around awesome vocalists - mix country twang with cocktail swing as they tackle their favorite heartbreak tunes by artists ranging from Jimmie Rodgers, Leonard Cohen, and the Scud Mountain Boys to Badfinger, Bad Company and Barry Manilow.

Togetherness, which also includes a pair of Phillips&Driver originals, takes a slightly subversive (but always sincere) look at unrequited lust, secret crushes, and the love that, until recently, dared not speak its name. It's genre-blending and gender-bending, but kind of old-fashioned too, and it may just make you swoon. Though some of the songs they've chosen could have simply been exploited for their kitsch value, Phillips&Driver have dug a little deeper and found some very real passion at the heart of each one.

When they started out together, Phillips&Driver liked to emphasize the country aspect of their collaboration, in its sensibility if not sound. They looked for cry-in-your-beer tunes of all kinds that tackled the outsized emotions of classic C&W - songs about longing, loving, and losing. But it became clear from their earliest shows that Phillips&Driver were up to something even more intriguing. There are folk elements in their show, classic rock balladry, cabaret-like stylings, outfits that featured gold-toned vinyl (on him) and unlikely ultra-femme sequins (on her), lots of humor, and a sly sort of theatricality. What they've ultimately created is pop music from way out in left field that manages to go straight to your heart.

Phillips&Driver find utterly unique ways to approach some familiar material. Leonard Cohen's "Joan Of Arc" has been a staple of singers from Judy Collins to Jennifer Warnes, but Phillips&Driver recast it as a more provocative duet between the embattled saint and the fire swirling at her feet. Phillips takes on the previously male role of narrator in The Scud Mountain Boys' "Grudge ****," a horny loser's last-ditch attempt to crawl into bed one more time with his estranged lover. It becomes more about devotion than desperation while losing none of the sexual tension that made it seem so real in the first place. Similarly, Driver takes the Bad Company boast, "Ready For Love," and ditches the swagger for a slow, sensual burn. You'll never hear that song in the same way again.

Jimmie Rodgers' "Secretly," a tune once covered by The Lettermen, and Lerner & Loewe's "I Loved You Once In Silence," from the musical Camelot, are among the most simply -- and beautifully -- arranged ballads here. They may be the oldest songs vintage-wise in Phillips&Driver's repertoire, but they seem utterly contemporary, turned into meditations on the power and the pain of closeted emotions. (When she performs the Lerner & Loewe song, Phillips admits to an ongoing crush on Julie Andrews, who starred in Camelot on Broadway.) Driver's own "Oh Starsky" carries the subject further, using his identification with '70s TV star Paul Michael Glaser, who lost his family to the AIDS epidemic, to imagine a very differerent sort of Starksy & Hutch drama. And Phillips' countrified prayer,"Lesson" packs a real punch in light of current events - a plainly rendered portrait of life during wartime.

Gretchen Phillips and David Driver arrived at Togetherness from very different places, geographically and artistically. Phillips has been name-checked by indie artists like Le Tigre for her work as singer/guitarist with former Rough Trade act Two Nice Girls, whose song "I Spent My Last $10 (On Birth Control and Beer)" has become something of an alt-rock anthem. She's a hometown hero in Austin where she played in Girls in the Nose and Meat Joy, and was recently voted into the Austin Chronicle's Music Poll Hall of Fame. She's also been a Gay-Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Award winner.

Austin Chronicle writer Greg Beets declared "The fact that Phillips uses her angelic, well-versed voice to deliver astute punker-than-punk sentiments is a key factor in her continuing significance to Austin music." And Los Angeles Times critic Craig Lee observed, "The emotional resonance of Phillips' music is universal, which - in a way - makes it even more radical in its implications."

Driver, on the other hand, has pursued a career on and off - and off-off-Broadway, as well as in clubs and cabarets, on his own or with his jazz-oriented Driver Quartet. In the Village Voice, Rob Tannenbaum said that Driver "has coined an oblique Downtown twist on saloon singing, devoid of melodrama, like Jerry Vale dreaming of Chet Baker."

Driver was in the original Broadway company of Rent. He regularly makes appearances at the Losers Lounge tributes to various songwriting legends; his rendition of "All This Useless Beauty" at the recent Elvis Costello event was a showstopper. He also appears alongside Costello himself on chief Jazz Passenger Roy Nathanson's theatrical song cycle Fire At Keaton's Bar and Grill (Six Degrees Records). And he's currently starring in People Are Wrong!, a musical work-in-progress produced by John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants.

You can find Phillips&Driver together on tour throughout the U.S.A. this year. In the meantime, you can enjoy a little Togetherness any time you want. Day after day, in fact. Play it for someone you love - even if they don't realize they love you yet.