October 24, 2005

Various Artists: This Bird Has Flown: A 40th Anniversary Tribute to the Beatles' Rubber Soul

Tribute records tend to be plagued with a number of flaws. Some tributes falter because they match unknown artists with excellent material. Some fail because the artists involved are well known, but their covers are either half-assed or simply remakes that match the tributed artists' songs with the covering artist's personal style. How boring. Then you get covers of obscure material that's difficult to make comparisons with, simply because the listener is probably more familiar with the artist covering the song than the artist being covered. Then again, some artists simply can't be covered easily, simply because the original songs are well-loved and revered with a quiet, religious devotion....you know, like The Beatles.

This Bird Has Flown:A 40th Anniversary Tribute to The Beatles' Rubber Soul is a simple, straightforward affair--young artists paying tribute to one of the better albums of the 1960s. As tribute records go, it's not bad; it's occasionally guilty of the problems mentioned above, but on the whole, it's quite pleasant. Most of the names are familiar to those who appreciate mainstream independent music (or Triple-A alternative radio), and thus the interpretations are fairly straightforward. A little variation on an arrangement, though, can make or break a cover version, as seen by Low's take of "Nowhere Man." Sung by Mimi Parker, it sounds pretty enough, and although the song retains a bit of the original's upbeat tempo, the band removes the "la-la-la" vocal tagline, and the song seems to fall apart. The Cowboy Junkies' otherwise beautiful cover of "Run For Your Life" is marred by the change of gender. (The less said about The Fiery Furnaces' horrid take on "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," the better.)

Still, those unsurprising flaws don't weigh down the album's highlights. It's a real treat to hear Old 97's frontman/sexpot Rhett Miller's rather straightforward cover of "Girl," and the typically dull Ben Harper's faux-reggae take on "Michelle" isn't bad, either. It's hard not to like Ted Leo's new-wave rock version of "I'm Looking Through You," and Ben Lee's melancholy take on "In My Life" is very touching and pretty. It's equally impressive how The Donnas' near-faithful cover of "Drive My Car" sounds both like the Beatles and The Donnas. But the overall winner of the set is Nelly McKay's breathy, seductive version of George Harrison's "If I Needed Someone." She turns it into a sexy jazz lounge number, and the twinkling piano and unhurried tempo makes the song feel like 2 AM in a smoke-filled jazz club.

This Bird Has Flown is a lovely record, in spite of occasional flaws, and it genuninely serves as a nice tribute. But if you really want to hear pop perfection, and you haven't heard Rubber Soul, don't buy this record--go buy Rubber Soul instead. Then come back here for some interesting interpretations.

--Joseph Kyle

Album Website: http://www.thisbirdhasflown.com
Label Website: http://www.razorandtie.com

No comments: