Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before?
Apparently, it’s not just DJs and single record store employees who like making mix tapes; even rock stars are getting in on the act. Two current releases feature indie bands covering the works of other songwriters. The New York-based Firewater was formed in 1996 by members of other notable rock groups, including guitarist Duane Denison of Jesus Lizard, drummer Yuval Gabay of Soul Coughing, and saxophonist/accordian player Kurt Hofmann of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. On Songs We Should Have Written, the ensemble brings together a mix of influential tracks, reworked in their own brash fashion.
Their raucous and unruly style suits many of the rock standards well – in their rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” you can almost smell the whiskey on lead singer Tod A.’s voice; singer Jennifer Charles adds a swagger to Sonny and Cher’s dance-pop hit “The Beat Goes On.” However, reinterpreting some of modern music’s most popular anthems has its risks: Firewater unwittingly demonstrates that the gentle gospel track “This Little Heart of Mine” wasn’t meant to be an aggressive, guitar-driven song; and while the first half of “Paint It Black” stays true to the spirit of the Rolling Stones classic, it ultimately breaks down into an over-indulgent instrumental whirl of stretched-out squeals and sitars, losing much of the momentum of the original. However, the band is never timid in their approach, and the record as a whole is a heartening love letter to the icons who helped shape Firewater’s rowdy and eclectic sound.
Grades: Firewater, B; Rough Trade, A-