We’re in the midst of a short Spring series featuring this year’s early tributes and cover compilations, thanks to an unusually strong crop of those full-album sets which so often stand as the coverlover’s archival foundation. Last Friday, we kicked off our series with a look at The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver, sharing three tracks from the album and a Covered In Folk mixtape of relatively recent folk homage for comparison; today, we explore two different approaches to The Everly Brothers from The Chapin Sisters and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Dawn McCarthy, with a bonus set of coverage from the folk archives to follow.
Single-artist tribute albums are rare enough as it is. But in what can only be considered a curious confluence of events, 2013 will see two strong full-album tributes to close harmony duo the Everly Brothers – both by by folk duos, though from opposite sides of the contemporary genre spectrum.
The first of these, What The Brothers Sang – a pairing of frequent nu-folk collaborators Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Faun Fables frontwoman Dawn McCarthy, preceded by a teaser leading-edge holiday video cover of Christmas Eve Can Kill You that made the rounds in December – comes from the indie side of the folkworld, and sounds it, with Oldham’s broken baritone and McCarthy’s warm alto establishing a complex tapestry of sound throughout, and a tendency towards languid arrangement and more obscure set pieces that brings out the maudlin. Overall, though, with true-blue rockers, slow folk tracks, and neo-traditional settings all in the mix, the collection as a whole comes out quite flexible in its treatment of the songbook, rebuilding each song as a discrete genre expression with respect and not a little experimentation, making for a diverse and deeply intimate, but often tense and broken resurrection well worth repeated listening.
- Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Dawn McCarthy: So Sad 
- Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Dawn McCarthy: Devoted To You [ibid.]
The second Everly Brothers tribute this year will come from Cover Lay Down favorite family singer-songwriter pairing The Chapin Sisters, fresh off a month-long residency singing classic country songs at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn, where they paid tribute to their own sibling harmony tendencies by performing light, sparse takes of family-harmony classics from The Louvin Brothers, The Carter Family, and, finally, an ever-expanding series of Everly Brothers hits on banjo and guitar in suits and slicked-back hair. The experience also led to the recording of The Chapin Sisters: A Date With the Everly Brothers, a dreamy cross-gender tribute that promises to play the songs relatively straight, albeit more tender, and with more than a hint of female twang; the album isn’t finished being paid for or packaged yet, but a Kickstarter gift at the above link now will net you the disk when it’s ready; in the meantime, there’s plenty of live and promotional footage to show us how sweet this one will be.
- The Chapin Sisters: Crying In The Rain
- The Chapin Sisters: Love Hurts (live)
- The Chapin Sisters: Crying In The Rain (live)
More broadly, the influence of brothers Don and Phil is evident in both early and ongoing coverage of the Everly Brothers’ compositions throughout multiple genres, and in the ease with which songs originally recorded by them, such as B & B compositions Love Hurts, Devoted To You, and Bye Bye Love, have come to be considered popular and oft-misattributed standards – not to mention the continued misidentification of chart-topping songs performed but not originally recorded by the two, such as Gilbert Bécaud’s Let It Be Me, which came from France and traveled through the filter of American television before reaching the Everly Brothers’ ears.
And just as this year’s new tributes split the difference between the early popfolk elements and the country stylings which characterized the Everly Brothers work, so too do Today’s Bonus Tracks reveal a similar macrocosmic split in contemporary coverage writ large, with most artists adopting duo configurations to take on the close melodic harmonies of the Everlys even as their performances and arrangements yaw between delicate indiefolk and robust acoustic country and rock.
Especially dear pairings include the romantically-linked girls at the core of acoustic folkband The Ditty Bops, boyfriend and girlfriend Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice, Doc and son Merle live in concert, married tradfolk pair Pharis and Jason Romero, long time folk couple Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, and Teddy Thompson’s duet with his mother Linda, who also did a great duet with Sandy Denny on another Everly Brothers hit once upon a seventies. Even sibling fiddle-and-cellofolk pair Tristan and Tashina Clarridge, aka The Bee Eaters, sing in harmony, borrowing Aoife O’Donovan’s vocals, then trading off licks on their instrumental version of Crying In The Rain as if their strings could sing. In the end, of today’s set, only Rosie Thomas and Ed Harcourt, like Oldham and McCarthy, remain unlinked by blood or marriage – and save their harmony for the final verse, perhaps in penance.