Album review: 'Minnesota Beatle Project, Vol. 4'
It is not easy for any band or artist to cover The Beatles. They were one of the rare bands that come along and get it right the first time through. So reviewing an album of Beatles covers will naturally be as much of a mixed bag as the album itself.
The Minnesota Beatle Project can be excused for some of its uninspired moments musically because the proceeds help fund music education in public schools. If a Beatles song is to be butchered or reinvented in an amazing way, it should at least it is for a good cause.
The interesting aspect of these albums is that each band/artist has roots in Minnesota. Past collaborators have included Soul Asylum and Mark Mallman.
The fourth installment includes acts from Trampled By Turtles, Halloween Alaska to DeVotchKa and Astronautalis.
It begins with a fairly decent take on the classic "A Day In The Life," by John Mark Nelson. It certainly has a nice new take on the track, with jazzy saxophones and a similar psychedelic break to the original. Interesting, but probably good for one or two listens. It pops, but not nearly as much as the original.
Haley Bonar takes on "Mean Mr. Mustard" with fuzzed out guitars and some nice vocals. It is actually quite a good cover on a song which originally took place in the midst of melody that takes up side two of "Abbey Road." But her vocals and guitars that feel almost from a Paul Westerberg/Replacements album make this a great track.
DeVotchKa do a fairly spot on take on "Girl." It does not stray much from the original, but does add some nice, Tom Waits-sounding instrumentation toward the end of the track which keeps it fresh and slightly bent to the original. The instrumentation chaos at the end of the track adds a nice flavor to the track.
Chastity Brown's cover of "For No One" is fair, but adds too much production and overdubs that made the simple, acoustic ballad a little too messy. Kudos for trying something different, but it doesn't really work. While it remains somewhat stripped down, this is one of those Beatles songs that remain almost impossible to cover without basically trying to sound exactly like the original.
"Baby's In Black" gets a bluegrass take by the great Trampled By Turtles. This is how one goes about covering something, make it their own. They keep the basic melodies, but the fiddles and strings and acoustic guitars alongside with countrified vocals really make this cover something to put on any mix cd.
When trying to cover any of Lennon's more surreal Beatles songs, it's hard not to fall into the extremely weird camp. "For The Benefit Of Being Mr. Kite" is one of those, along with any of his "Sgt. Pepper/Magical Mystery Tour" era songs. Van Stee gives it a decent go on this album. The vocals are reminiscent of Syd Barrett, the music is a mix of replicating the original effects and a bass-less Primus track. Weird, yes. Enjoyable? Only once or twice. It goes a bid overboard with strange sound effects and samples.
It's fitting that Halloween Alaska would take on "Misery." The band has that low-key vibe that fits fairly well with one of Lennon's first self-deprecating tracks. The track is as stark as the vocals, which works well in this situation. A good cover all in all.
Molly Maher and her Disbelievers take on George Harrison's "Think For Yourself" in a fairly decent way. The vocal harmonies are nice and sultry and angry. The instrumentation sounds a mix of the original, but with sparse drum beats and nice, Doors sounding piano/organ. The wa-wa guitar solo was a bit too much, but over all a decent attempt.
It's hard to hear songs from "Abbey Road's" epic melody, so Big Trouble's cover of "You Never Give Me Your Money" would normally be treading on some tough waters. But they manage to take it on and do a decent take on it. They do not sway much, if at all from the original, even the guitars sound like Harrison/McCartney. The vocals are not as powerful as McCartney's, but if one wants to hear a dead on version, they could simply buy "Abbey Road" for that. The problem here is, musically, it is nearly identical. This is why covering the Beatles is no easy task, stray too much and it's bad. Stay too close, what's the point?
Astronautalis give "Back In The U.S.S.R." a great, fuzzed out rock cover. For this reviewer, cutting down on the Beach Boys sound of the original is a great improvement. It's a cool, almost sneering punk song here, which definitely give the lyrics a little more push than the original.
Overdoing a simple Beatles song is always trouble. Caroline Smith & The Good Night Sleeps take the beautiful Lennon ballad "Cry Baby Cry" and from the start pump out the lyrics like it was an Aretha Franklin song. There may be some Beatles songs which would work in this fashion, but a song like this was never destined to have a Motown sound with funky vocals and instrumentation. It is barely worth listening to once, it's too much.
Mark Joseph with Reed Grimm take "Baby You're a Rich Man" and turn the bombast of the original into a nice, simplistic soul track. It works here because deconstructing the overdubs and samples of the original but staying true to the melody works for making this a decent cover.
The album ends with the Bloomington Jefferson High School doing an orchestrated version of "She Loves You." It has a nice energy and is a nice ending for this collection, because its music programs like this that what the album is all about.
Overall, the fourth installment of the Minnesota Beatle Project is decent. There are hits and misses. Astronautalis and Trampled By Turtles are the two tracks really worth checking out, and the DeVotchKa and Halloween Alaska covers a decent as well. Worth checking out and the money does go to a good cause.