Recording cover tunes is a fraught undertaking for an artist or band. Well-loved classic material may point up the weaknesses of their own songwriting. Hew too close to the original version and it is easy to sound like a top-forty act; stray too far and it raises the question of why you bothered. But the benefits too are numerous. Songs by other artists that are well chosen, arranged and performed can reveal much about artist or band influences, and show off arranging and performing skills.
The group Shivaree is a loose aggregation, with a core of singer Ambrosia Parsley (I'm not making that name up and apparently neither is she), guitarist Duke McVinnie, and keyboard maestro Danny McGough. Other musicians come and go but this trio has been the nucleus through three full CDs and an EP. Their main American success to date has been "Goodbye Moon," the tune that plays at the end of Kill Bill II, and they have achieved some notoriety in Europe. All four recordings are worth seeking out for what I described in my puremusic review of Who's Got Trouble as their seamless combination of "Torch, Tango, Twang, Musique Concrete, Marching band, and Metal." (If I don't quote me, who will?)
All those elements and more are in evidence as they cover tunes by a cast of songwriters as motley as their sound. And speaking of motley, let's start with the band's version of "Looks That Kill," by Motley Crue, turned into a bossa nova here without a shred of irony--they heard a good song and did it their way. Who but the eclectic Shivaree would rub the Crue up against western-swing star Spade Cooley, whose "Shame" On You" is chosen here. Juxtapose Gary Glitter ("Hello Hello I'm Back Again") and R. Kelly ("Half On You")--why not?
The purported link between all of these tunes is that they deal with love in its many forms. But as I write this I notice that every tune is authored by someone whose relationships to the opposite sex can only be described as slightly "off," or did hard time, or both. Phil Spector, Chuck Berry, Michael Jackson (a great arrangement of "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"), David Allen Coe, Ike Turner, Rick James, Leadbelly...am I the only one whose sees a pattern here? I mean Cooley killed his wife for heaven's sake! Let's just say these guys ain't no Boy Scouts.
The (alleged) perversity and/or criminality of the authors notwithstanding, Parsley & Co. have chosen well. The songs, though in some cases obscure, are all great. Despite the diversity of the original genres, Shivaree has made each and every tune their own, tying them together, not necessarily with similar production, but with the distinctiveness of Parsley's voice and the same unique brand of creativity that they bring to their own music.
Hopefully the familiarity of some of these tunes will garner the widespread radio play that has thus far eluded this band, and send millions scurrying to find their terrific catalog of original material. Which, after all, is another reason bands record covers. • Michael Ross