The Five Greatest Cover Albums Of The Week
By Devin Bambrick
Paul Baribeau- Darkness On The Edge Of Your Town
Admittedly, part of Bruce Springsteen’s charm is the near magisterial bombast with which he imbues his tales of failure and romance. It’s blue-collar meets arena glitz. Take the production of “Thunder Road,” which, crowded with layers of guitar and harmonica and glockenspiel, lends earnest heroics to the most quotidian narrative. It’s all so gigantic, an epic and fierce monster of a song. A friend of mine characterizes it as the perfect music for driving, and I can’t disagree. There’s so much going on that it seems perverse not to open some windows. And so Paul Baribeau’s mission may seem misguided at first, to strip down Springsteen’s tracks to scrappy acoustic folk-punk screamers. But once you get to his worked-down “Thunder Road,” any listener with a soul will find herself converted. There is such genuine hope in Baribeau’s yelping, messy and insistent over savagely strummed guitar. And then there’s the climax, where Paul and his vocal co-conspirator twist the huge bastard of a saxophone solo into the most charming and beautiful shout-along you’ll ever hear.
Scala & Kolacny Brothers- [Various]
I can readily admit that nothing pleases me like a good gimmick. If you can condense a band or an album into a twenty-word-or-less concept, like “cult-like army of white-robed hippies singing songs about hope,” or “indie rock using Victorian vernacular,” I’m pretty much guaranteed to dig it. In this case, the concept is far too endearing for me to ignore: a Belgian girls’ choir performing pop songs. A lot of the time, the songs are pretty schmaltzy misfires, and so you’re better off cherry-picking tracks off of music blogs. However, of particular interest should be their rendition of The Knife’s “Heartbeats,” which you can whip out when your hipster friends try to impress you with Jose Gonzales’s sensitive-guy reading of the song. You know, the one they used in that Sony commercial.
Johnny Cash- American IV: The Man Comes Around
Yeah yeah, “Hurt,” bla bla. I don’t want to hear it. Johnny’s version of Reznor’s song got massive MTV coverage when he shuffled off the coil, but it’s far from the most interesting thing on the disc. The fourth entry into Cash’s Rick Rubin-produced run of old-man-and-guitar American series remains the strongest of the five (with the sixth somewhere down the railroad track). “Bridge Over Troubled Water” will make you cry, and “In My Life” is one of the strongest Beatles covers I’ve heard, taking on gravitas that would have been impossible for the vivacious four. Sometimes I like to pretend Cash is my grandfather, and this is what he left behind for me.
Colin Meloy- Colin Meloy Sings Shirley Collins (EP)
Every year, Colin Meloy, lead singer of The Decemberists, goes on tour all on his lonesome, performing stripped down versions of his band’s songs. The effect is all over the place, with some songs finding a new energy in the raucous support of a strong contingent of sixteen-year-old girls, others clearly lacking the diverse instrumentation of his backers. To make things interesting, Meloy chooses an artist to plunder and fool with—Morrissey, Shirley Collins, and Sam Cooke. The Collins EP is most solid, as Meloy’s voice suits folk ballads beautifully. After all, many of his own songs find themselves in that particular territory of bootblacks and chimney sweeps. “Barbara Allen,” a sinister creeper in the vain of Meloy’s “The Tain” is a gem, shaking up the wordy song with an intrusive electric guitar.
Rufus Wainwright- Rufus Does Judy, Live At Carnegie Hall
So secure am I in my sexuality that I am willing to recommend to you this song-by-song recreation of a Judy Garland concert. That’s all I’ve got to say on that.