Five minutes spent watching any TV ‘talent’ show should be enough to convince you that singing other people’s songs well is a unique art. To truly cover a song you need to own it completely for yourself. You need to sing this is my song and actually mean it. So Brandi Carlile was brave to ask fourteen artists to cover songs from her album The Story. Thankfully the rich and diverse interpretations of her work on this charity album Cover Stories are more than worthy of comparison with the originals.
Shovels and Rope have such character when they sing, they push everything to the edge. It’s hard to tell sometimes whether they are on the verge of fucking or fighting, which is the point I guess. They sing the hell out of Late Morning Lullaby to the point where their voices nearly break. Such gritty gusto sets the tone for the album.
Dolly’s contribution is a standout of course, but then it’s hard not to standout when you’re Dolly Parton. The Story is Brandi’s most famous song (although written by her bassist Phil Hanseroth) and has previously been covered by Leann Rimes and in that weird musical episode of Grey’s Anatomy. It’s a song that can verge on the melodramatic, but Dolly strips it down to its heart and takes those high notes to somewhere really sweet. It sounds like she’s been singing this for decades (although it’s safe to say that Dolly’s plastic surgeon would never allow actual lines to appear on her face).
Torres’ version of Until I Die is downplayed and downbeat with subtly effective results. Ruby Amanfu adds a touch of soul with Shadow on the Wall, and this is a welcome contrast to the other more rock and rootsy sounds on the album. Nice to have the Indigo Girls on here too, singing Cannonball.
There’s another true star on this album, and I don’t mean Adele. Over the last year Margo Price has proved she’s got the voice and the talent to succeed in country music, without the help of Music Row. Here she covers Downpour, backed by the lovely sound of classic country guitar. Margo sings this song like she’s lived it, like these metaphors tell us her own story. She’s the real deal, no question.
The purpose of this project might be to raise money for War Child but the result is much more interesting and ambitious than your typical charity album. Unlike something such as War Child’s famous album Help, where a random group of artists chose random songs to record, Cover Stories is unique. Covering songs from one album has a created unity of feeling, which brings these disparate artists together.
It must be strange in a way for other people to sing your songs and in some cases sing them better. But I guess Dolly also knows all about that. Sometimes writing the song is the just the start of the story. Cover Stories is an album worth your time and more importantly your money.