We here at Treble love us some covers. We’ve written column after column on the idea of the cover, tribute albums, and the occasional surprise live renditions of other people’s material. (My favorite of which is the recent Jay-Z performance at Glastonbury. Oasis slagged the choice of Jay as a featured performer at the festival because Glastonbury was “built on a tradition of guitar music.” So, Jay came out with a guitar and half-heartedly covered “Wonderwall.”) At Treble, we are also very particular about the art of the cover. We feel that the covering band should find out how to perform the song in a way that is entirely fresh and new, otherwise, what’s the point? This is especially true if the song in question is incredibly well known. Take, for instance, one of the most popular songs of the ’60s in “(Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Otis Redding substituted horns for guitars and made it his own, and later Devo completely deconstructed it for an even more memorable tribute. When the song is obscure, the last point doesn’t seem to matter. Of course, what would motivate someone to do a cover of an obscure song? To answer that, we might want to ask Andy Cabic, the leader of the rotating troupe of musicians known as Vetiver. He didn’t just record one cover of a relatively obscure song, he recorded 12 songs that make up the album, A Thing of the Past.
Cabic and Vetiver started out under the wing of the then rising popularity of folkie Devendra Banhart. Recruiting such indie rock notables as Colm O’Ciosoig of My Bloody Valentine and Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, Cabic sought on his debut album to make his own brand of summery folk, sans the `freak’ tag that hounded so many of his peers. Cabic continued distancing himself from the pack with his second full-length, To Find Me Gone. The latter album was a particular favorite of mine in 2006 and one that continually gets played, with many of my friends getting the `underrated’ speech from me. And now, with A Thing of the Past, Cabic has seemingly outdone himself, and without doing anything aside from play us some of his favorite songs.
So, you may have heard of Townes Van Zandt, or even Loudon Wainwright III or Hawkwind, but I believe I’d be hard pressed to find anyone who had heard of any of the other acts that Vetiver pays tribute to on this album. Though I was at first concerned and intrigued, my fears have been allayed. In reality, Vetiver is doing music fans a favor. Not only are they releasing an album of material their fans haven’t heard, but they are also cross-referencing them to a bunch of other music at the same time, and that’s a music lover’s dream! After all, that’s how I found out about Bill Fay, through Jeff Tweedy’s heartfelt rendition of “Be Not So Fearful.” Vetiver roll through each track with both reverence and verve, putting themselves in the 1967-1973 era as well as vaulting these artifacts headlong into the present. The sleepy magic of “Roll On Babe,” the jaunty sing-along of “Hook & Ladder,” the whispered piano ballad “Lon Chaney,” the Dead-like jams of “Blue Driver” (coincidentally featuring the original artist on backup vocals) and the bluesy opening track of Hawkind’s debut, “Hurry on Sundown” make this album an absolute gem.
Whether completely familiar, slightly familiar, or with a complete ignorance to any of the original artists to which Vetiver tips their collective caps, everyone can find charm, elegance and a reason for celebration in A Thing of the Past. I didn’t grow up with any of these artists. My parents went in more for the Bud & Travis, Simon & Garfunkel, Smothers Brothers and Kingston Trio vibe than anything more counter-culture. But, I know that Andy Cabic and I shared some similar feelings. I loved poring over my parents’ records, whether early Beatles albums, forbidden George Carlin comedy performances or Credence songs about the Bayou. (Which reminds me of a friend’s joke in which he claims he likes that one Credence song about the Bayou, then thinks about it, and chimes in, `Wait. Aren’t they all about the Bayou?’ It’s like saying you like that one episode of Gilligan’s Island where they nearly escape, or that episode of Three’s Company where someone overhears something that sounds risqué and misinterprets, causing hilarity to ensue.) Either way, the unearthing of such great music has been good for both Vetiver and for us, their fans. Cabic called A Thing of the Past the `best album [he’s] yet to make’ and I’d have to agree.
David Bowie- Pin Ups
Billy Bragg & Wilco- Mermaid Avenue
Cat Power- Jukebox