In 1994, Shawn Colvin pared down Talking Heads ‘This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)’ to minimal acoustic and keyboard flourishes for her album Cover Girl. Gone was the fresh, clinical production of the 1983 original, gone the metronomic electro-beat and reggae style guitar. Sam Beam (Iron and Wine) and Ben Bridwell’s (Band of Horses) holiday project borrows from the lyric for its title, Sing Into My Mouth, and kicks their album of covers off with an equally divergent version.
Beam has a distinctive set of vocal chords that he layers with his best pal’s in a sunset-over-the-mesa vibe given depth by a rich, fat 70s sound. Where Colvin jumped forward to the coffee houses of New York, Beam and Bridwell press reverse and slip into Prine territory, complete with pedal steel and ragged brushwork.
A 70s feel flows through the album, even if some of their choices aren’t from the period. As you’d expect from two friends who happen to be musicians, they grew up with multiple influences and bring a little piece of everything to Sing Into My Mouth. It’s an album they’ve been threatening to record for a decade, but only recently have their diaries aligned and given them an opportunity to lay the tracks down. Even then, they did most of the work in a week, which makes the organic feel and tight arrangements all the more impressive.
Given their day jobs, a lot of the choices will make sense. Of the possible surprises, the lounge jazz of Sade’s ‘Bullet Proof Soul’ might seem out of place, but Beam and Bridwell retain the tension of the original and forge a hybrid of soul and country that works so well anyone without prior knowledge of the British Nigerian chanteuse might think the South Carolina boys had written it. Ditto the slow speed and swampy feel of the usually skittish El Perro Del Mar’s ‘God Knows (You Gotta Give To Get)’, with its searching strings and atonal brass, and more conventional version of Spiritualized’s ‘The Straight And Narrow’, where Bridwell sounds like Mind Games era Lennon, accompanied by reverb-heavy piano.
All three work far better than they have any right to, reminders that interpretation is often the method by which these songs stay with us, stay relevant. As Beam said in his interview with Folk Radio, ‘Songs are a script, not a stone carving’ (read it here); reinterpretation has worked well for folk for hundreds of years after all.
There’s so much more to the album than these (perceived) esoteric choices. The delightful acoustic ‘Abs Song’ entwines their voices around a melody built for sharing a mic, the only issue being its too short 1:20 length. The shuffle of Raitt’s ‘Any Day Woman’ drifts along on mouth organ, kept afloat by Beam’s lived-in voice, and Ronnie Lane’s after-party ‘Done This One Before’ is a nailed-on karaoke number towards the end of any live set, instantly finding its groove and holding it like superglue.
There are jewels placed through the set, two of which share a surname. John Cale’s ‘You Know Me More Than I Know’ is a smoother version of the ’74 track from Cale’s ‘Fear’ album, an album that featured a certain Richard Thompson of this parish. Smooth or not, the drums mirror the original and Bridwell’s voice carries the weight more than ably. The piano is high in the mix and the start and stop rhythm is a welcome shake-up amid the craft of the other tracks. Later, JJ Cale’s ‘Magnolia’ is superb, the veteran songwriter’s after-midnight voice and lazy balladry replaced with ambience, space, and the white noise of open hi-hats washing under a double-tracked Beam vocal heavily dosed with chorus and reverb.
In truth, there’s not a duff interpretation in sight. Pete Seeger’s part-yodel, part sung ‘Coyote, My Little Brother’ closes the set, his gymnastic throat and ecological message transported to a ballroom of slow-moving strobes and psych-folk guitars, not unlike something Wilco might circle the wagons on in rehearsal. If you can get on board with the diversity on offer (and why on earth wouldn’t you?), Sing Into My Mouth is a gloriously relaxed set of Summer songs from two musicians whose passion for their art shines through every groove. Get it on.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
01 This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) (Talking Heads)
02 Done This One Before (Ronnie Lane)
03 Any Day Woman (Bonnie Raitt)
04 You Know Me More Than I Know (John Cale)
05 Bulletproof Soul (Sade)
06 No Way Out of Here (Unicorn / David Gilmour)
07 God Knows (You Gotta Give to Get) (El Perro del Mar)
08 The Straight and Narrow (Spiritualized)
09 Magnolia (JJ Cale)
10 Am I a Good Man? (Them Two)
11 Ab’s Song (Marshall Tucker Band)
12 Coyote, My Little Brother (Pete Seeger)
Sing Into My Mouth is out on July 17th
Pre-Order it via Amazon