Covers. Either you love 'em, or ya hate 'em. Of course, covers are subject to a paradoxical standard. If the cover's faithful, then the song'll be written off as a nice diversion, or, in a worst-case scenario, karaoke. If the cover's radically different, the song's either praised as 'bringing new life' or it's dismissed as defacing sacred ground. Unless the covers are spectacular, then an album of cover songs isn't treated in the same regard as original compositions. More often than not, a covers record is often seen as a stopgap measure between real albums.
Crooked Fingers' first foray into the cover record territory is Reservoir Songs. For those who have seen Crooked Fingers in the past year or two will have heard at least one of these songs, as they all have been staples of their live set for some time.
The first song is a cover Kris Kristofferson's hit for Johnny Cash, "Sunday Morning Coming Down." It's a tale of a lost sinner wandering around town on a Sunday morning, and feeling somehow incomplete in the process. Johnny Cash's version has a special place in my mind, and Crooked Fingers' version, while dark and brooding (thanks in part to the drone of the backing band) isn't going to be replacing Cash's version in my mind.
Luckily, that's the weakest song on the record. The pace is picked up quite quickly by his cover of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man," and Bachmann's rendition is perfect. It's not the same, but it's not terribly different, and his voice sounds quite a bit like Diamond's. When "When U Were Mine," an early Prince hit, starts, with its lone banjo picking and heartreaking cello backing, you cannot help but be shocked. It's not a thing like the original; it's slower and sadder, and Bachmann's singing really spotlights the pain that Prince's version seemed to write off as bitterness. It's a breathtaking version, and from what I understand, when it's performed live, it's performed without amplification.
"Down to the River," by Bruce Springsteen, was the only song of the bunch that I wasn't familiar with, and though I'd heard Crooked Fingers' version live about two years ago, I've still to hear the original. Either way, Bachmann makes it his own, and, like "Solitary Man," Bachmann doesn't stray very far from Springsteen's version. The closing song, "Under Pressure," is an interesting, stripped-down version of the Queen/David Bowie hit. When I say stripped down, I mean "altered" in the sense that Crooked Fingers sensibly removed any trace of that nauseatingly ubiquitous melody line that most would remember more as being "Ice Ice Baby."
Crooked Fingers. Man, I love 'em. Great band, great talent. Reservoir Songs is a nice little release, and, from what I've read, may not be Crooked Fingers' only cover record. Bachmann says he enjoys doing covers, and god bless 'em for having good taste in music and the skill to pull 'em off.