A covers record can be a dangerous thing. Shit even one song ill performed can set off a string of controversies that can get folks mad enough to come to blows. I remember years back when the actress Scarlett Johanson recorded an entire record of Tom Waits covers and the critics along with Waits’ fans had a field day trashing the shit out of the record. The only way to properly do a cover song or a covers record is that you have to either due the song justice or make it your own completely, changing it so much that the original is scarcely identifiable beyond the lyrics. Jeff Buckley’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is a good example of both.
John Jackal, the three piece Connecticut offshoot of Whiskey Priest, decided to try their hand at a little covers EP entitled Ain’t Worth a Damn that consists of four tracks by the artists Bruce Springsteen, Hank Williams, Kurt Cobain, and David Allan Coe.
The EP opens with “Born In The USA” an almost indistinct version of the song, which with John Clarkes two packs a day vocals doing much of the veiling here. The Springsteen original is a powerful and heroic anthem. It’s an angry sounding song in the hands of John Jackal. As it stands had I been living in an underground bunker for the last thirty years and had never heard the original version I’d say that it was a pretty damn good tune.
Hell, after a few spins of it, the song begins to grow on you and I give it a passing grade. Next up the Hank Williams classic “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry” becomes a new sort of classic in these hands. The band fills this staple with dark, angry and gritty twang. And as Clarke gutterally dishes out William’s sadness, the lyrics ring true in a way that I’ve never heard them before.
Nirvana pulled off several unlikely covers on their now classic concert companion Unplugged in New York. They played an acoustic version of “Come as You Are” that I find is their best version of the song. It was meant to be done acoustic and full of feeling. John Jackal attempt here to infuse this song with campfire serenity but the song just falls a bit flat after the first few frames. It takes away the darkness and replaces it with an attempt at sentiment which is why it fails. However they find their stride again on the upbeat closer “I Love Robbing Banks” which with its story-song lyrics is the perfect style of tune that John Jackal should be covering.
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