June 28, 2005

Various Artists "Friends & Lovers: Songs of Bread"

Soft-rock stalwards Bread suffer from an unfair reputation. Their gentle harmonies were quite stunning, and main Bread singer/songwriter David Gates was an unrecognized master of melody. He could write a beautiful lyric that would draw you in and expand in your heart. Bread songs like "Baby I'm A Want You," "If" and "Make It With You" are considered classics in the soft-rock canon, and for good reason; listening to them thirty-five years later, these songs still sound fresh, possessing a timeless quality that transcends the "soft-rock" tag.

Tribute records often fail when the artists don't sound like they're paying tribute to a band. Many fail because they're not so much 'tributing' the band inasmuch as they are performing karaoke. They also suffer from a general lack of love for the subject of the tribute; nothing is more frustrating than hearing a band perform an insincere, ironic cover. What makes Badman's Friends & Lovers: Songs of Bread excellent, though, is the balance of talent is proportional to the quality of the music. While names like Holy Sons and Emily Sparks might not mean much to you, their obscurity doesn't distract from the record's quality, because even the smallest name on Friends & Lovers recognizes the power and the beauty of Bread.

All of the bands involved treat Bread's song with a gentle touch, showing that those involved actually care about what they are covering. Call & Response's take on "Baby I'm A Want You" is a breathless indiepop number; lead singer Carrie Clough could easily be mistaken for another soft-rock heavy, Karen Carpenter, and the jazzy arrangement sounds like vintage Teenbeat Records. Both Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow make appearances here, and both songs help to highlight the influence Bread had on their own band, The Posies. The same could be said of Cake's cover of "The Guitar Man," and let's not overlook Oranger's psych-rock reinterpretation of "Make It With You." It is Rachel Goswell's cover of "If," though, that makes Friends & Lovers so worthwhile. Eschewing the country style of Mojave 3 and her solo career, she makes a welcome return to a style that's much more dreampop than anything she's done in a decade. With a cold, shimmering accompaniment that's actually quite faithful to the original, it instantly reminds of Goswell's previous band, Slowdive, and it also shows just how beautiful "If" really is.

Though most tribute records are mediocre at best, Friends & Lovers is a surprisingly excellent collection. It's clearly a labor of love for those involved; not only highlights some excellent artists, it also helps give David Gates his proper due as a songwriter. If you really need a reason to check it out, do so for Rachel Goswell's "If." You won't be disappointed, and it's a fair guess to say that the other thirteen tracks will win you over. After checking this record out, we recommend that your next purchase should be Best of Bread, but after listening to Friends & Lovers, we bet you'll be thinking the same thing.

--Joseph Kyle

Label Website: http://www.badmanrecordingco.com

No comments: