THE MAGIC OF TWO IS HEARD ANEW IN CARLA OLSONS HAVE HARMONY, WILL TRAVEL 2, DUE MARCH 20 FROM SUNSET BLVD. RECORDS
LOS ANGELES, Calif. —Two great voices weaving together beautifully is one of the most basic and durable concepts in music, and Carla Olson returns to it on her new album Have Harmony, Will Travel 2, which arrives from Sunset Blvd. Records on March 20.
The album, which features the veteran Texas-bred, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter-producer in duets with 11 guests, is a successor to 2013’s Have Harmony, Will Travel, which found Olson collaborating vocally with such artists as Peter Case, Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield), John York (the Byrds), Scott Kempner (the Del-Lords), and Juice Newton.
Like the previous collection, Have Harmony, Will Travel 2 was inspired by Olson’s youthful days as an aspiring musician, when she marveled at the diverse sounds she heard on Austin’s top-40 station KNOW.
She recalls, “You’d hear everything from ‘Love Is Blue’ by Paul Mauriatto The Zombies. Even before I got into high school, I had a wonderful variety of music hitting me. I had this catalog of songs in my head that I wanted to play with a band, or I’d hear a vocalist who maybe wouldn’t have done a particular song actually recording that song.
“Very often,” she adds, “a singer will think that they’re not capable of doing a song that I’ve asked them to do, or that it wouldn’t fit them stylistically, but I’ll hear something in that voice that beckoned me to get them to sing it.”
Produced by Olson, the second Have Harmony set sports an eclectic lineup of talents that includes Timothy B. Schmitt, bassist-vocalist of the Eagles; Peter Noone of the British Invasion band Herman’s Hermits; singer’s singer Terry Reid; Stephen McCarthy, vocalist and guitarist of L.A.’s “Paisley Underground” group the Long Ryders; and the album’s lone featured instrumentalist, original Bee Geesguitarist Vince Melouney.
In addition to duo performances with multilingual vocalist Ana Gazzola and singer-songwriter Jim Muske, the album surveys Olson’s collaborations with two-time Emmy-winning actress-singer Mare Winningham, the brawny roots-rock band I See Hawks in L.A., legendary soul man Percy Sledge, and The Byrds’ masterful co-founder Gene Clark.
Most of the featured musicians on Have Harmony, Will Travel 2 are Olson’s longtime associates. Though Stephen McCarthy played on So Rebellious a Lover, Olson’s 1987 duet project with Gene Clark that followed her work in The Textones, the two musicians had never sung together until a 2018 benefit Buffalo Springfield tribute with the Wild Honey Orchestra.
“We did ‘Burned,’ and I loved singing with him,” Olson says. “It was really a treat to find how our voices blended together.” For their first recorded duet, they essayed Patty Loveless’ 1988 hit “Timber, I’m Falling in Love.”
Olson’s friendship with Noone dates back to the singer’s work in his ’80s band the Tremblers with the late Phil Seymour, another close associate. He selected The Searchers’ U.K. hit “Goodbye My Love” as his track.
Noone’s participation in the project was a thrill for Schmit, a cornerstone of the Eagles lineup since 1977. Olson remembers, “When he saw Peter in the studio, he sort of snuck down the hallway and said, ‘Uh, uh, Peter … I saw you in Sacramento when I was 15!’ It was his childhood hero. Man, did he freak out!”
She continues, “Approaching Timothy B. Schmit seemed awkward at first, because he’s such a big star. But he is so sweet, so kind, and so generous with his time. I had cut his Eagles song ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’ with Chubby Tavares, and that was kind of a door-opener.” The pair perform Richie Furay’s Buffalo Springfield standard, “A Child’s Claim to Fame.”
Olson says of Terry Reid, “I saw him open for Cream in 1968 in Dallas, and he damn near blew ’em off the stage. I’ve known Terry for a long time — I met him through Mick Taylor back in the late ’80s or early ’90s, when Mick and I did our album together.
“He is definitely one of the most interesting voices in rock ’n’ roll. I had the idea to do a very tender, sweet song with that gravelly voice of his. I wanted him to sing ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ with that odd cadence that he has — it’s not in time. That’s his style! We added a cello to it — it was cut to ‘Terry time!’ It makes me cry when I hear it.”
Olson’s track with Vince Melouney, who appeared on all the Bee Gees’ career-making early albums, revisits “Shackles and Chains,” a John Stewart number they performed together at a tribute to the late songwriter at Pasadena’s Coffee Gallery Backstage. “I had never played the song,” she says. “I thought of it as a Johnny Cash kind of arrangement of what John Stewart did with his band. Vince plays all the lead guitar on it.”
The newest tracks on Have Harmony, Will Travel 2 are rounded out by a rambunctious version of Stephen Stills’ “Uno Mundo” by Ana Gazzola, whose 2012 album of Portuguese-language Bee Gees covers was produced by Olson, and the vocal debut of Minnesota singer-songwriter Jim Muske, who performs his own composition “Haunting Me.” Olson says of the latter track, “Jim goes back with us for decades, as a musician and as a friend. He hadn’t sung in years, and he has a tremendous voice. He came in and just nailed the vocal.”
Wrapping with tracks with Winningham (from a Spanish hits compilation by Olson), Sledge (backed by Mick Taylor, from Olson’s 1994 collection Reap the Whirlwind), and I See Hawks in L.A. (from their 2009 album Shoulda Been Gold), Have Harmony, Will Travel concludes with a duo rendition of “Del Gato,” a powerful Western ballad from Olson and Gene Clark’s 1987 album So Rebellious a Lover, which proved to be Clark’s final release before his death in 1991.
“That song was something Gene was just playing for us in his living room,” Olson recalls. “We thought it was a standard! It sounds like something by the Sons of the Pioneers. We sang that song for fun — we didn’t know we were going to make a record. To sing that song was such a joy to me. It’s hard to not be able to sing that song today.”
On February 21, Olson will celebrate the release of Have Harmony, Will Travel 2 and Sunset Blvd.’s expanded re-release of True Voices — a compilation that features her and several of her collaborators — at a show with Stephen McCarthy, John York, Rob Waller of I See Hawks in L.A. and Johnny Indovina of Human Drama at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, Calif.