By John Wigley
Covering an artist for one song of a collection can be seen as an act of homage, respect or perhaps an admission that you didn’t have enough tunes to make a full length album. Creating a whole record of material from one source is a more complex thing. It can be an act of love, a cheesy indulgence or an art project-or of course, all three in shifting percentages and hopefully in harmony.
Harmony really is the key here. The Chapin Sisters, the Brooklyn born duo with the old and new sound (simultaneously filled with the clear air of the mountains and the steam of New York street grids) have essayed an album of the songs of the dons-or possibly the phils- of two-part harmony, The Everly Brothers. Too often we look at the the British invasion of fifty years ago as the year zero of modern pop. This sidelines the influence of artists like Buddy Holly and The Everlys. The Beatles, The Beach Boys and, perhaps most obviously Simon and Garfunkel-especially when they were known as Tom & Jerry-all bear the imprint of the brothers’ pristine, near ghostly vocal harmonic invention. And like Don and Phil, the sisters come from a family of musicians. Their father is Tom Chapin; their uncle was the frankly marvellous Harry Chapin. This pedigree shows. They recorded all fourteen tracks in one day at the wonderfully named Thump Studios in Brooklyn. There is no shiny slickness to these recordings; only an organic warmth and vibrancy. Those harmonies, those beautiful harmonies that make you catch your breath on the originals are a summit beyond even Lennon and McCartney (dig out the Let It Be album for proof). The sisters are clearly good studies and, with Lily portraying Don, and Abigail hitting Phil’s high notes, the combination of hard work and real love has led them to (forgive the strained metaphor) the last base camp with a good view of the craggy beautiful summit.
The choice to keep personal pronouns as originally recorded is a good one: it made me think of two other covers. On the plus side, British jazz singer Sarah-Jane Morris recorded ‘Me and Mrs Jones’ with no lyric changes, her version showed respect for the original whilst having the feel of a political statement. On very much the minus side, James Ingram recorded the Aretha warhorse as ‘(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Man’ and it was horrible. If you’re going to draw a moustache on the Mona Lisa, you’d better be Marcel Duchamp.
And now, the songs. A Date With The Everly Brothers is focused on songs they released between 1957 and 1961, the commercial period of their career. About half of the songs are originals and the bulk of the others are by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant from the brothers’ time at Cadence Records. ‘Cathy’s Clown’ is lovely, soft buttery and pure. ‘Down In The Willow Garden,’ a traditional tune from the mountains skillfully co-ops a mesmeric blankness and a Lynchian chill while still being a faithful cover, making it an achievement of real complexity. There are no failures here but for me, the highpoints are a gorgeous ‘When Will I Be Loved’ and a jewel like, prayer like ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream.’ Utterly Chapins, utterly Everlys, utterly wonderful.
A Date With The Everly Brothers is released by Lake Bottom Records: http://www.thechapinsisters.com