A short one-shot occasional today, as part of our New Artists, Old Songs series -- a feature in which I have the rare privilege of introducing some artists so far under the radar that most of them haven't even hit the rest of the blogosphere, so new that they haven't yet recorded more than a single cover or two, and so incredible I just couldn't wait until their next album to write about them.
Today's featured artist: Arrica Rose and the...s
There's been plenty of buzz in the blogworld as we near the May 20 release date for the new Tom Waits cover album by Scarlett Johansson (yes, that Scarlett Johansson). Indie coverblog Blowin' Your Cover seems to like it; Muruch is reserving judgement, though she offers Holly Cole's cover album Temptation as the gold standard for Tom Waits cover albums.
I'm curious enough about the full monty here; both genre and premise seem up our alley, though it's hard to hear Scarlett in the samples I've heard. And it's no secret that I like Tom Waits covers -- I posted two covers of I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You recently, and both were worth a second listen. But like Muruch, I have a high standard in mind when it comes to Tom Waits covers. And in my case, the bar was raised that much higher just last week, when the best damn Tom Waits cover I've heard in a long, long while -- Arrica Rose and the ...s cover of I Hope That I Don't Fall -- dropped out of the sky into my mailbox.
Rose is a relative newcomer whose second album La La Lost is getting decent radioplay but not much blogpress after a mid-April release. Her version of I Hope... is the sole cover on an album which moves fluidly from lo-fi yet popgrungy singer-songwriter tunes that call to Juliana Hatfield or Mary Lou Lord to reasonably powerful indiefolk originals reminiscent of early Ani DiFranco. The sound is good, if a bit too diverse. But the big appeal here is singer-songwriter and indierock pin-up girl Arrica Rose's beautiful but broken voice: unusually hoarse and strangled, as if on the verge of tears, with a subtle and gentle delivery that gets lost in a bigger sound. And when the production steps back and lets that beautiful, broken instrument come forward, the songs really shine.
Today's coversong is one of the most intimate and most successful cuts on the album. Here, the abovementioned elements combine with the lyrical longing of the original to create a breathtaking transformation of what was already an unusually powerful song. Where Waits' original is as broken as his voice, Rose brings us a narrator who is immeasurably fragile, as if she could break any second. The stakes of the narrative dilemma are raised accordingly. The result is a stunningly beautiful, bittersweet cover which both transcends and revitalizes the original.
It's hard to imagine a better Waits cover coming at us this year. But don't take my word for it. Listen for yourself, and then pick up La La Lost for the originals:
*[UPDATE 5/29: File truncated at artist request; sample here, and then head to iTunes or buy the album for the whole song!]
For comparison's sake, here's the way-too-poppy title track to Scarlett Johansson's impending release Anywhere I Lay My Head; a much more subtle second track is up at Blowin' Your Cover. Plus one from Holly Cole, so we can hear what Muruch hears.
We'll have at least one full-sized post of Tom Waits coversongs one of these days, never fear. In the meanwhile, come back Sunday for our sixth edition of (Re)Covered, in which we return to some past features, artists and themes to add a few newly discovered, uncovered, and recovered songs into the mix.