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Firewater Songs We Should Have Written (Jetset Records)

Various Artists
Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before?
(Rough Trade)

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-

Tags: Music News