Saturday, April 22, 2006

Under the Covers, Volume 1

Years ago, Nick Lowe put out an album called Pure Pop for Now People (actually that was just the US title because the record company didn’t think the original title, Jesus of Cool, would go over well in the American market.) This disc, filled with buoyant covers of tunes from the 60’s and 70’s, embodies the title…it’s pure pop for now people of the 21st Century and it’s perfectly groovy indeed.

Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet make a great team. Sweet plays most of the guitars here (and quite well indeed) and if his earnest voice is not in the same league with Hoffs’ creamy, soulful, beguiling vocals the blending of their voices works well just the same. Hoffs’ voice is more upfront in the mix most often and that was an excellent decision (Hoffs takes the lion’s share of the lead vocals here.) Van Dyke Parks plays keyboards and contributes string arrangements.

Recorded in Sweet’s home studio, this disc is filled with covers of interesting, intriguing songs…some better known than others. If their version of Bob Dylan’s world-weary “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” is probably too sweet for its own good they hit the hail on the head with other songs such as their sprightly take on the Beatles’ Revolver gem “And Your Bird Can Sing” and their luminous reading of Fairport Convention’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”.

They dip into Neil Young’s songbook twice with “Cinnamon Girl” (which lacks the crunch and bite of the original but is enjoyable in its own right thanks mostly to Sweet’s tasty fretwork) and a jaunty “Everyone Knows This is Nowhere”.

Special kudos for them for their simply-grand acoustic version of “Alone Again Or” by the criminally underappreciated band Love.

There are 15 tracks in all including covers of The Beach Boys (a game “Warmth of the Sun”), The Bee Gees (the sweetly soaring “Run to Me”), The Who (the pure power pop goodness of “The Kids are Alright”), Linda Ronstadt (a note-perfect re-creation of “Different Drum”), Marmalade (the rollicking “I Can See the Sun”), The Velvet Underground (a lovely “Sunday Morning”), The Mamas and the Papas (a credible version of the oft-covered “Monday, Monday”), The Zombies (the sparkling “Care of Cell #44”), and The Left Banke (the bright pop of “She May Call You Up Tonight”).

This is a marvelous pop record and I hope the “Volume 1” in the title means that there’s a possibly of an encore because I would certainly welcome “Volume 2” with open arms.

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