It's been more than 15 years since Sara Evans scored her first chart-topping hit with "No Place That Far," a country tearjerker featuring Vince Gill on backup vocals. Since then, she's collaborated on outside tracks with a few artists, including the Warren Brothers and Brad Paisley, but she waited until this year's Slow Me Down LP to record a full-blown duet for her own catalog. Looking for a male singer who could wring the emotion out of the album's sweeping, swooning power ballad, "Can't Stop Loving You," she turned to Isaac Slade, lead singer and pianist for the Fray. (Hear the song in the video player below.)
"I've been a huge fan of Isaac ever since I heard 'How to Save a Life' on Grey's Anatomy," she tells Rolling Stone Country. "I love bands like the Fray, where the singers have cool voices that aren't necessarily perfect, but are raw and gritty and full of emotion. 'Can't Stop Loving You' was pitched to me as a duet, so I started racking my brain, thinking of people who could sing it with me. Isaac was first on the list."
Unlike Evans' duet with the Doobie Brothers on the upcoming tribute album Southbound, in which her vocals parts were tracked separately, "Can't Stop Loving You" was recorded in one studio, with the two singers facing each other.
"I had already recorded the verses," she explains, "but we sang the choruses together once he came in. After doing the choruses five or six times, we sang the entire song from top to bottom, so [the engineers] could have an even more emotional take of us singing it together."
"I raised the key without telling him, too," she adds with a laugh. "It made everything sound more dramatic. Isaac can go from sounding like he's almost yelling to sounding like he's crying, and I wanted him to get closer to the yelling thing."
A song about desperation, heartache and the sort of persistent love that never fades — even if you want it to — "Can't Stop Loving You" struck a chord with Evans. It also got her thinking about her favorite duets. With her summer tour in full swing, she found the time to ring us up and talk about classics ranging from Stevie Nicks and Don Henley to Eminem and Rihanna.
"Endless Love," Lionel Richie and Diana Ross
"I sang this song with Marc Anthony at the Lionel Richie tribute show, and I count that was the best live performance I've ever done. Lionel was sitting in the front row, so my adrenaline was raging, and I wanted to do it so well. That song is in my wheelhouse. It was really high and really challenging, but it was my best performance ever. Marc Anthony and I had a lot of fun, too."
"Whenever I Call You Friend," Kenny Loggins and Stevie Nicks
"I love that song. I always call it 'Sweet love's showing us a heavenly light.' I don't think I ever really knew the real title until I looked it up today. They both have great voices with this massive vibrato, so that song just works together. They were the perfect pairing."
"Easy Lover" Philip Bailey and Phil Collins
"That's just a song from my teenage years that brings back the best memories."
"Love the Way you Lie," Eminem and Rihanna
"I think it's an awesome, cool duet. I love sexy songs. I love songs that are desperate, and Rihanna's part is so desperate. Eminem is a brilliant writer, too."
"On My Own," Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald
"I'm a huge Michael McDonald fan. He's an amazing singer."
"Leather and Lace," Stevie Nicks and Don Henley.
"I did a CMT Crossroads episode with Maroon 5, and I sang that song with Adam Levine. We really did have great chemistry."
"Friends & Lovers," Carl Anderson and Gloria Loring
"It's got the nostalgia factor. A lot of the times, you think about these songs and go back and listen and say, 'Oh my god, the production was so funny!' But at that time, I just remember thinking, 'What a cool song. We don't have to be one or the other. We can be friends and lovers.'"
"No Air," Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown
"That's a great song. Phenomenal singing. My husband and I danced to Brown's song, 'With You,' at our wedding."
"Don't Know Much," Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville
"Like the others, it's a song about love and relationships, but this one is more on the positive side. It takes me back to my teenage years. The melody of that song is just so cool, and the way they sing it together… They're both unbelievable singers. It's such a musical song."
"Don't Go Breaking My Heart", Elton John and Kiki Dee
"Classic. Love it."