Duets can be a perilous art. First and foremost, there aren’t a ton of them. Second, it’s easy to for things to wind up a little ham-handed; whether it’s meant to or not is another story.
Take Mick Jagger and David Bowie’s massive flop of a combined effort on Martha & The Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets.” It was a collaboration brought about by Live Aid that was tracked, produced, and mixed in four hours. That should have been the first sign, but alas, it was not. The most infamous aspect of the entire duet was the hilariously dated music video which has run through the satire ringer a time or two, most recently as a Family Guy cutaway.
But all that is to say, duets are tough to sell, so when there is one that goes over well, it’s well worth examining and celebrating further. That leads us to Augustus Carroll’s latest release, “Leaving Carolina.”
The song opens with a gang chorus that sparks thoughts of Diane Coffee’s “Spring Breathes,” only to pivot quickly into a more subdued and observational tone. Amongst the observation, there are visions of pastoral recollection, that combine relational burden and reverential weariness. The line “crawled upon my knees to relieve my feet” brought about an immediate image from the end of the 2014 Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Language Film, La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty).
There is a scene near the end of the movie where the film’s protagonist, Jep Gambardella - one of Italy’s greatest “one hit wonder” writers - reaches an epiphany in a lifetime full of superficial living. That’s the short version, at least. The film’s final scene is a feast for the senses, in which Gambardella finally finds inspiration for his next work, shifting between visions of Gambardella’s story and an old decrepit nun crawling up marble steps to find redemption. It’s an intense moment in the movie, and arguably one of it’s most confusing, but by the credits roll you’ve experienced a sensational moment of redemptive elation.
The same can be said for “Leaving Carolina.” Consider it to be a smaller in scale, Nashvillian, spiritual cousin to La Grande Bellezza. Carroll and his duet partner weave in redemptive perspectives of their own making - not necessarily intersecting the great Italian novel and Catholocism, but it possesses a depth all it’s own. More intimate. Less preprossessed. But all the while, Carroll’s bucolic observationalism opens up its tender meandering and pours itself into an impassioned decrescendo. “Leaving Carolina” is a song for the auteur. Much like Paolo Sorrentino with La Grande Bellezza, Carroll is creating his own beatitude in the modern age, through a deft and warm duet that is “Leaving Carolina.”