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Dynamic Duo

A chance meeting unlocked a unique sound for Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart.

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“I told the [repair] man I was born here and can I have a discount?” Stacey relates with a good-natured laugh, as she talks via phone while awaiting repairs. The guy turned her down with a flat “no” but road dogs need to push on regardless. “It all depends on when the part arrives, and how good the part is depends on when we go to New Orleans. [Our next show’s] not canceled yet if they can get that part on by tonight.”

Earle and Stuart can take road mishaps with the best, having crisscrossed the country as a duo since meeting in 1992. Earle had just returned from an Australian tour with her songwriting brother, Steve Earle. Steve was well-established at that point, but performing was new for Stacey. As kids growing up in Texas, both she and Steve had music and words in their veins. While Steve went off to seek stardom, Stacey was a teenage mom. She wrote tunes for fun, but time to take music seriously was scarce.

“Mother Nature kicked in, and I took it very seriously,” she says. “Dreams were put on the back burner. I got to waitin’ them tables real hard.”

But back in Nashville after that first tour, she was ready to test her songs and find a niche of her own. Earle began performing at singer-songwriter nights at Jack’s Guitar Bar, while raising her kids and holding a day job. The first night she took the stage, Stuart — a singer, guitarist and songwriter in his own right — was in the audience. Stacey’s well-crafted down-home-and-personal tunes caught his attention, and by the end of the night they were onstage together. It’s been that way since.

“I didn’t ever see a future of not waiting tables,” Earle says. “I think the person that actually convinced me I could actually do it for a living was Mark. That night we met, he says, ‘You want to make some money with what you’re doing?’”

Now, as an experienced and engaging duo, they play a range of music that falls loosely into folk and rock genres. Earle’s songs can be carefree or heartbreaking, and she sells them with vocals both fragile and plainspoken. Stuart’s songs are rooted in rock and country, and are often written with many instruments in mind. His guitar accompaniments color the arrangements and shape them into crystalline acoustic duets with Earle’s guitar. They usually write independently of one another, asking for critiques after the fact. The latest CD, “Never Gonna Let You Go,” finds them beginning to collaborate more.

Stacey Earle came late to her professional calling. But her lucky meeting with Mark Stuart threw her into a musical duo world far removed from waiting tables.

“We have accidentally locked into something that can’t be unlocked,” Earle explains simply. “A sound.” S

Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart play Ashland Coffee and Tea, Thursday, Feb. 12, 8 p.m. Advance tickets are $10 through www.ashlandcoffeeandtea.com. Call 798-1702 for more information.

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