Inspired by the last Bangles album, I have been looking again at Susanna Hoffs’s extra curricula catalogue but this time with some foreboding. I did this once before following The Bangles’ break-up in 1989 and bought her solo effort ‘When You’re a Boy’ but it didn’t do much for me, hence the slight anxiety. But this time I have chanced upon her collaboration with producer and multi-instrumentalist, Matthew Sweet and this time it was worth the money.
Sweet and Hoffs, or Sid ‘n’ Susie as they are billing themselves, have tapped into their love of the 60s and 70s and created a series of ‘Under the Covers’ releases (two volumes to date). Volume 1 spans the 1960s and mixes well known songs like ‘Monday Monday’ and ‘Alone Again Or’ with lesser known efforts from the big hitters of the day like the Beach Boys (‘The Warmth of the Sun’), The Zombies (‘Care of Cell 44’) and a killer version of The Beatles’ ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’.
The prickly subject of covers has been aired numerous times in this blog and it bears stating here that these are not deliberate re-workings of the original songs but more loving reconstructions, done with infinite care in a totally modern environment – no analogue and sticky tape here. What really sets them apart from the blueprints is the vocal performances which are nothing short of awesome from both Ms Hoffs and Mr Sweet and despite having vocal tones at opposite ends of the scale they combine beautifully. You can almost hear the fun they had doing these songs which are clearly close to their collective hearts.
Dare I say that Hoffs’ take on ‘Who Knows where the Time Goes’ is on a par with Sandy Denny’s original? It works, yet somehow you don’t expect an American voice to gel with Fairport’s quintessentially English folk sound. Sweet struggles a bit with the Wilson falsetto on ‘Warmth of the Sun’ but his rasping performance of Neil Young’s ‘Cinnamon Girl’ is a great cut, as is his interpretation of The Who’s ‘The Kids are Alright’. Let’s face it, this is not high art in the accepted sense but nor is it downmarket karaoke but something in between. Mainly, it’s a fun record made by people with talent and a real love of their subject matter and one that I shall return to on a regular basis.
So with Volume 1 in the bag, I may well have to have a look at Volume 2 which majors on the 1970s. I couldn’t resist having a listen to their take on a surprising choice of Yes’s ‘I’ve Seen All Good People/Your Move’, and am staggered to report that if Susanna Hoffs is not the next Yes singer, I’ll eat…something. She really nails it. Is there nothing she can’t sing? And with Clapton’s ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ and ‘You’re So Vain’ on the setlist, I don’t think I’ll be resisting for long.