5 Dynamic ’90s Country Duos Who Created Timeless Music Together – American Songwriter

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Good things often come in twos, and country duos are no different. While artist duos have been around since the days of Western music, the idea of pairing two country artists together boomed in the ’70s and ’80s with duos like Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, and Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. By the ’90s, several country duos were cementing names for themselves.

Here are five groups that have stood the test of time.

1. The Judds

One of country music’s most affecting success stories, The Judds were long considered to be the genre’s underdogs. Consisting of Naomi and Wynnona Judd, a mother-daughter duo from Kentucky, the two rose to prominence in the 1980s with songs like “Why Not Me” and “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout The Good Old Days).” They were discovered after producer Brent Maher ran into Naomi as she was working as a nurse at the hospital, where she offered him a demo she and Wynnona recorded together.

With Wynnona at the helm, Naomi would provide support on the harmonies, creating a serene, warming sound that feels like a mother’s hug. Though they only had one album come out in the 1990s, Love Can Build A Bridge, for Naomi had to resign from the band, the two remained notable figures throughout the decade. They performed a Farewell Concert in 1991 and reunited several more times in the 2000s. Sadly, Naomi Judd passed away in April 2022. A memorial show by CMT was held in her honor, and Wynonna would take on a final tour from The Judds on her own, with special guest appearances.

2. Brooks & Dunn

Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn formed Brooks & Dunn in 1988 and became one of the most well-known country duos by the ’90s. They received their first No. 1 song on the Billboard country song charts in 1991 with “Brand New Man,” and won two Grammy awards for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group in 1993 and 1996.

The two began making music together through producer Tim Dubois, who brought the idea up while the two were still leading their separate music careers. They dropped “Brand New Man” in 1991, followed by a full album by the same name. One of their most popular songs, “My Maria,” is a cover of a B.W. Stevenson song, and leads off their album release cycle for Borderline.

Brooks & Dunn are known for the wall of sound they create with percussive elements, which harken back to old-fashioned country production. Ronnie Dunn’s falsetto soars on tracks like “My Maria,” introducing a soul to the music.

The duo remains active to this day, performing at country music festivals across the country. They were also inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2019 as a Modern Era Artist.

3. Brother Phelps

After five years with Southern rock band The Kentucky Headhunters, brother duo Doug and Ricky Lee Phelps left the group in 1991 due to some creative differences and started Brother Phelps. While they only put together a few releases before disbanding in 1995, their brief career together was largely successful, with a few of their songs entering the country music charts—“Let Go” reached number six, and “Were You Really Livin’” reached number twenty-eight. They also received two CMA nominations in 1994 and 1995, both for Vocal Duo of the Year.

Compared to the music they released with The Kentucky Headhunters, Brother Phelps was more tried and true country, eliminating some of the rock elements of the previous project. In recent years, they’ve been praised for the nostalgic feeling their music evokes, with songs like “Let Go,” which sounded classic upon its release.

After the group broke up, Doug Phelps re-joined The Kentucky Headhunters, where they would release music into 2015. Ricky Lee Phelps would continue on with his solo career, releasing two albums, Sign of the Times and Full Access, in 2003 and 2006 respectively.

4. Sweethearts of the Rodeo

Nineties country had the brotherly dynamic of Brother Phelps, the mother-daughter dynamic found on The Judds, and of course the sisterly duo Sweethearts of the Rodeo.

Janis Oliver and Kristine Arnold formed Sweethearts of the Rodeo in 1986, pulling their name from The Byrds album. The two had always admired the “cowboy” aesthetic and wanted to incorporate that into their image and music, so the title “Sweethearts of the Rodeo” seemed to suit them perfectly.

The two released four studio albums in the nineties, with 1990’s Buffalo Zone hitting number 41 on the country album charts. They would also find success with their single “This Heart,” which reached number twenty-five on the country singles charts. Their Song “Satisfy You,” released in 1988, is one of their most popular to date.

Sweethearts of the Rodeo had a bluegrass tinge to them, featuring subtle strings and a hoppy beat overall. With years of working together under their belt, they grew acclimated to their songwriting styles and processes, making them a powerhouse of a duo. In a video interview with the sisters, ‘[Janis] gets this look on her face now when she’s got a song in the works like nothing else matters.’

5. Blake & Brian

The Texan duo, comprised of Blake Weldon and Brian Gowan, formed in 1995, when producer Chuck Howard saw potential in a permanent collaboration between the two of them. Blake & Brian, both experienced singer-songwriters already, would release their debut self-titled album in 1997, but unfortunately, the two did not release any other albums together. The group would call it quits in 1999, and Gowan would then focus on a solo album, to be released the year after.

Three of their songs would hit country music charts in 1997 and 1998. “Another Perfect Day” and “The Wish” off of Blake & Brian would be the first two entries, followed by a one-off single, “Amnesia,” in 1998. “Amnesia” is bluesy and melancholy, but has a unique sense of spirit. It follows someone who can no longer remember what it’s like to be loved after a recent heartbreak.

Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

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