Today’s Google doodle, for those of you who haven’t seen it, celebrates Valentine’s Day with a characteristically cute little themed number celebrating once unrequited love finally won. The video plays to Tony Bennett’s rendition of Hank Williams’ tune, Cold Cold Heart – a classic work of songsmanship which, Williams says in the below video, “has been awful kind to me and the boys, it’s bought us quite a few beans and biscuits. This is the best song we’ve ever had.”
Well, the best got better almost exactly 10 years ago when the talented and beautiful Norah Jones recorded it for her breakout album, Come Away With Me. I can think of no poetry to more sublimely capture our relationship, Norah, and so I dedicate this Valentine’s Day post to you in the hopes that reading it will finally melt your cold, cold heart.
Some time ago I posted a high-energy acoustic version of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, performed by the venerable Don Ross. I recently came across Ray Lamontagne’s take on the song, rounding out something of a stylistic trifecta – the danceable-electronic original, Ross’ instrumental, and Lamontagne’s coffee house. Enjoy.
At the core of the The AV’s project is a belief that an unfamiliar approach to a familiar song – particularly one with minimal studio interference – can help a listener gain a more nuanced appreciation of the artistry and craftsmanship that went into its making. Thanks to Resonance, the new south-Florida trio consisting of husband and wife Michael (guitar) and Rachel (vocals) Isla and percussionist Eduardo Lis, this listener has gained that added perspective toward a band that has always somewhat eluded him.
Michael, who has a master’s degree in classical guitar performance (Eduardo’s is in ethnomusicology), explains the group’s attraction to Tool in terms of the latter’s expressive multimedia stage performance, their use of non-Western tonalities, unusual time signatures (apparently, Tool has deliberately made much of their music unmoshable), and dash of minimalism.
In this acoustic version of Sober, a song replete with cynical references to the Son and the fallen state of man, Resonance, itself adept with multimedia, paints on a film noir-esque gloss to help project just the right aesthetic absent Tool’s stage show. And the somewhat muted nature of the interpretation allows the semi-conscious desperation to bubble to the surface.
I can’t resist accompanying the video with a condensed version of the lyrics, which package a powerfully dark message:
Why can’t we not be sober?
Just because the son has come?
Trust in me and fall as well.
I want what I want.
There’s a reason you don’t see a whole lot of funk played solo on acoustic guitar: one person can only lay down so much groove, and even the best solo performers can exude only so much energy. That is true even of the inimitable Stevie Wonder, whose Grammy-winning performance on the album Talking Book, which includes the staple Superstition (Wonder wrote the tune when he was just 22) benefits from the considerable abilities of a variety of top-flight musicians, including guitarist Jeff Beck and saxophonist David Sanborn.
The challenge didn’t deter Geoff Achison, the autodidact Aussie guitarist whose high-energy blues-funk sound is remarkably un-effected, from taking a crack at it. On his own terms, Achison succeeds brilliantly. In fact, his rendition eclipses the original version in terms of sheer force, a testament to his hypnotic ability to mix harmonics and tonal percussive effects to fill the room with more sound than a single guitarist has any business making.
On the other hand, it’s clear that something palpable is lost from a song defined at every layer by its hook and grooviness when translated into in a version unrecognizable to the audience until the performer begins to sing. What Achison does here is great, to be sure. But is it Superstition?
To my mind, Achison’s take on The Allman Brothers’ Whipping Post better balances his unique abilities with the integrity of the song. But agree with my take or not, there’s an interesting question here: how much liberty can an interpreter take with a song before it isn’t really the same song anymore at all?
Legend has it that Jimmy Page wrote The Rain Song in a single afternoon in 1972. Inspired by Beatle George Harrison’s observation that Led Zeppelin never wrote any ballads, the first three chords can be recognized by a careful listener as a hat tip to Harrison’s Something.
Released on 1973’s Houses of the Holy, The Rain Song has endured as one of Zep’s best loved tunes and representative of Page’s orchestral, heavily suspended acoustic style. Page also reportedly arranged the melody, to which Robert Plant wrote the lyrics.
I’m not the first to wonder how the history of rock would have unfolded differently had Page and Plant never found each other. Both brilliant but neither complete, their unique sounds can scarcely be imagined independent of each other.
Brian Macinanti helps in the imagining. Reminiscent of the grunge songwriters who defied the tension between the subtle vulnerability of a love ballad and the sheer force available to those willing to use the axe as a blunt instrument, Macinanti gives us a welcome Cornellian window into Zeppelin’s aesthetic.
Recognizably a product of the musical ‘90s, the original tunes Macinanti has posted to his YouTube channel make for good listening too. Take Madness, for example, one of his “older original songs.. about what happens when you compromise yourself too much for others and [the] consequences of not being true to yourself.”