At some point in time, many an artist has released a collection of covers, usually songs celebrating their influences and inspirations, often, also conjuring a simple campfire or living room singalong with friends. This is Colvin’s second, following on from 1994’s Cover Girl, and, again a tip of the hat to the days playing the clubs and bars singing others’ songs before she found success with her own material, although, there’s nothing here that would have been in her repertoire of the time.
Co-produced by Eagles guitarist Steuart Smith, who did the previous album, and Stewart Lerman, it’s a simple acoustic affair with a couple of special guests joining her on vocals for two numbers. First up is one of my all-time favourite Springsteen songs, ‘Tougher Than The Rest’, Colvin retaining the gender of the narrator, but exposing even more the vulnerability behind the macho pose of the lyrics. Indeed. The early running plays the familiarity card, following on with a beautifully world-weary, almost confessional tone reading of Paul Simon’s ‘American Tune’ before being joined by a muted David Crosby on the chorus for Gerry Rafferty’s signature tune, ‘Baker Street’. Now, this may be sacrilege in some quarters, but I was never a big fan of the original; however, here, stripped down to the bone with Glenn Fukunaga’s upright bass and guitar tapped hand percussion, and devoid of the sax flourish (replaced by lap steel), it takes on a late night bluesy resignation that flags up the sense of dislocation and alienation.
The second guest appearance comes from Marc Cohn who joins her to provide harmonies on a smoulderingly intimate, country soul arrangement of Brenton Wood’s ‘Gimme Little Sign’, again underpinned by laid back hand percussion.
The other choices are probably not so well known to the mainstream even if the writers are. Graham Nash provides another CS&N connection with a pedal steel streaked, resonant acoustic guitar arrangement of ‘I Used To Be A King’ which follows directly on from a gorgeous , emotionally wrought version of the Brennan/Waits love ballad ‘Hold On’, the chorus having an almost hymnal quality, Colvin delivering some of the lines in an almost chokingly spoken tone.
Crowded House’s Neil Finn a rhythmically choppy provides ‘Private Universe’ before a surprising interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Heaven Is Ten Zillion Light Years Away’ off Fulfillingness’ First Finale, transforming it from a gospel soul groove into a slow, late night acoustic blues that reminds me greatly of Clive Gregson’s ‘Touch And Go’.
Again, while critically acclaimed, written by Robbie Robertson and originally on Northern Lights – Southern Cross, ‘Arcadian Driftwood’, a song about the expulsion of the Arcadians during the war between the French and the English over present day Nova Scotia is probably one of the lesser known Band numbers, and Colvin’s six and a half minute version brings the haunting lyrics about dispossession into full relief.
Originally the B side of Creedence Clearwater revival classic ‘Bad Moon Rising’, John Fogarty’s ‘Lodi’ has seen many a cover, from Emmylou to Tom Jones, and, featuring both jangling acoustic and plangent electric guitars, it’s the most full bodied , country-rock track here and another strong notch to the song’s CV.
Texan-born Robert Earl Keen is something of a cult figure in folk-country circles, but, regarded as one of the great contemporary dust bowl songs, ‘Not A Drop Of Rain’, the collection’s penultimate track, is certainly one of his best known numbers and Colvin picks out a fine version here. The album closes on a classic country ballad note, looking back to 1973 and the dreamy-sounding ‘Til I Get It Right’, a country chart topper for Tammy Wynette that hews close to the original, but with pedal steel rather than strings and a slightly more torch quality.
As this month’s Ryan Adams release of his rework of Taylor Swift’s 1989 amply illustrates, cover version albums have a mixed history, but Colvin’s most definitely weights the balance in their favour.
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Here’s Shawn’s trailer video for Uncovered: