I do not intend to turn Oliver di Place into a cover song blog. There are already many people doing a fine job of that, and some of them are friends of mine. But I would like to say a few words on the subject of covers, and present a couple of examples.
One way to react to a cover song is to marvel at just how well the artist has duplicated the original song, down to every detail of the arrangement and production. I grant you that doing a cover this way does require and demonstrate a certain kind of skill. But, why not just get the original, if that’s what you’re after?
So I prefer that an artist who covers another artist’s song should make the song their own. At the same time, a cover should reflect the qualities of the original song which inspired the cover in the first place. Or the cover should reveal qualities of the song that were hidden by the way the song was originally done. It’s a delicate balance, and it can be much harder to achieve than a slavish reproduction. Let me show you what I mean.
Dixie Chicks: Landslide
The original version of Landslide was a hit credited to Fleetwood Mac, although it’s really Stevie Nicks flying solo. The arrangement is spare, basically just voice and guitar for the most part. But the Dixie Chicks recorded their version for their bluegrassy album. So they fill out the arrangement with fiddle and dobro parts, and they add harmony parts to the vocals. All of this could have overwhelmed the beautiful simplicity of the song, but, instead the extra parts only serve to heighten the emotion of the song.
Cassandra Wilson: Harvest Moon
Neil Young delivers his Harvest Moon as a country shuffle, acoustic guitar, steel guitar, bass and drums, all functioning as a unit. He sings in a controlled falsetto. But Cassandra Wilson takes the song to another place. I’m not even sure of the instrumentation here. The instruments sound fractured, as if some hidden force is trying to pull the arrangement completely apart. And Wilson sings the song in a haunted alto. So Neil Young emphasizes that the love between his characters is still very much alive, while Cassandra Wilson’s treatment prompts the thought that the quality of that love has changed over the years, and her narrator wants to revive something that may have been lost.