Earlier this year, Petra Haden – daughter of jazz legend Charlie Haden – released a cover version of The Who‘s classic album The Who Sell Out. It was not your average cover album, however, being entirely acapella, from the lowest bass lick to the most prolonged Daltrey warbles. What, then, makes this – another cover album – so special?
While there is little doubt surrounding multi-instrumentalist Petra’s technical ability (she is primarily known as a violinist), it is her remarkable voice that sets her aside from the hold-a-tune, sign-an-album-deal pretenders to the throne. And now, not for the first time, she has collaborated with virtuoso Bill Frisell – celebrated for his dextrous, eclectic back-catalogue, his film score masterpieces and for having worked with the likes of Ginger Baker, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois.
On this self-titled opus, the pair find themselves assigned to only one instrument each (violin for Haden; classic guitar for Frisell), with Petra herself filling all vocal duties. The result? A set of remarkably simple, pretty and enjoyable songs. It’s as if they were buskers in a previous life, trying their best to do justice to the original composers, avoiding even the slightest hint of pretension. If only all things in life we as uncomplicated.
Things get underway with Elliott Smith‘s Satellite, which is treated to relaxing guitar picking and ethereal harmonies. Proceedings remain at a blissful snail’s pace throughout Foo Fighter‘s Floaty (floatier than ever!), traditional Tuva song Bai-la Taigam and that timeless classic Moon River. The latter, in fact, maywell be the album’s highpoint, and is just about as beautiful and haunting as any version to date – Haden’s voice really is that good.
Coldplay‘s Yellow follows, and seems to adhere to the old saying that “Expectancy will always spoil a party.” After the grace of Moon River, a lacklustre Coldplay cover just doesn’t quite hit the mark. The nursery-esque interpretation of Tom Waits‘ I Don’t Want To Grow Up, however, follows up with a bullseye, as does the Haden-penned The Quite Room – a hummand-and-harred ditty akin to Cornelius without the computers.
As far as cover albums go, it’s a killer: As the final few tracks lounge out of the speakers, the will to listen attentively is still there. When You Wish Upon A Star is kept as sincere as it should be, and a six-minute reworking of Steve Wonder‘s I Believe even threatens to surpass the original, with Frisell’s delicate riffing giving Haden license to soar majestically.
There’s even time for Frisell original Throughout before the buskers pick up their caps and saunter away. The best part is, without doubt, that you can simply press play and they’ll be back in the room. You can certainly do a lot worse than this.