Writing songs, singing songs and playing songs on instruments are all separate arts – sometimes all colliding together in the talent of one person, other times existing as the collective work of many, of a collaborative, of a band. The art of song interpretation is a separate being altogether, as the idea of a “cover” can conjure up images of drunken quartets playing bad renditions of Beatles songs at worse bars, or wedding ensembles cranking out cheesy versions of the Billboard 100 in-between the Electric Slide and wobbly toasts. And in the modern pop and country world, it’s not uncommon for the songwriter to be a faceless ghost in the eyes of fans, a name on a set of liner notes (well, not in Nashville, of course – where the even average non-industry person understands what a publishing deal is and the difference between SESAC and ASCAP).
But the art of reinventing a modern song is actually a time-honored tradition, something done from the early days of country up to Johnny Cash’s take on Nine Inch Nails, or Bob Dylan on Woodie Guthrie or Linda Ronstadt on…anybody. We’ll pay tribute to this art here, and who better to kick off this series than one of our favorite great interpreters, Caitlin Rose. We all know and love Caitlin’s original music (read my first live encounter with her here, which involves a sweet little Williamsburg Bridge ditty), but there’s something equally special about her ability to take a song, unpack all of the pieces and assemble them back together as something unique, with an entirely separate footprint but the same integrity.
I had already fallen in love with her take on Arctic Monkey’s “Piledriver Waltz” and “Love is a Laserquest” when she came out with a version of The National‘s “Pink Rabbits” just last week, that brings her unique southern signature to the moody song – her interpretation makes you hear the lyrics in a new light and appreciate the malleability of melody, which is the best possible outcome from a skillful cover (side note: Caitlin also has songs called “For the Rabbits” and “Pink Champagne” – discuss). Watch them below.
It’s often a magical power, the cover. I’ll never quite forget first hearing Nirvana’s version of Led Belly’s arrangement of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” when the band did MTV’s Unplugged; I was young and stupid, but the song grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me hard, sending me down a path of exploration, to Led Belly’s cataloge and beyond. A good cover incites this kind of domino effect, unlocking not just the song but the entire world behind it; to new artists and new horizons, to roads otherwise untreadded.
(brief pandering interlude: feel free to vote for us in the Best of Nashville, because it’s the last day, and because we even forgot to ask our moms to vote for us so will most definitely lose).
“Pink Rabbits” :::
“Piledriver Waltz” :::