"The Nashville sound meets the soul of Memphis."
That's how Brad Paisley introduced the buzziest performance on Wednesday night's Country Music Assn. Awards, and for once the bit lived up to the billing.
Two dudes with distinct musical styles -- and dramatically different ideas about personal grooming -- Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake meshed beautifully in a joint take on "Tennessee Whiskey," the durable George Jones hit featured on Stapleton's acclaimed "Traveller" album, and Timberlake's "Drink You Away," which might be the closest the pop superstar has come to an old-fashioned Beale Street jam.
The 8-minute result, complete with a horn section and lovely harmony vocals from Stapleton's wife, Morgane, found a fertile middle ground between country and soul. No wonder the camera caught Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum, whose best work borrows from R&B, watching with visible envy.
Kelley wasn't the only A-lister impressed by the performance, either. Wearing a bedazzled Stapleton T-shirt while collecting the prize for female vocalist of the year, Miranda Lambert thanked the two singers and said, "I'm gonna go home and practice."