What The Brothers Sang
It’s hard to know what’s trickier: keeping up with Will Oldham’s musical endeavours/releases or spotting anything resembling actual sincerity. Deep in the chase – for the first time in years – I’ve found him at his best and most heartfelt right here with this tribute to not only The Everly Brothers but the great songwriters that assisted the Everlys.
What The Brothers Sang avoids the obvious hits and shows that even when the drinking and fighting threatened to capsize the good ship Everly there was still gold in them there hills. Most of the songs on this covers album come from the 1960s, arguably a long time after the heyday but hey, they sound fantastic.
Crucial to the success of this record is Dawn McCarthy (you may know her from Faun Fables and/or previous work with Mr ‘Prince’ Billy). Dawn is the perfect duet partner for Bonnie. She’s almost the female version, the female equivalent – with a voice that does dry and lived-in and does soaring beauty; she isn’t so much singing against Oldham’s parts as joining him for the ride. They’re like two buddies heading out on a song-search together.
And there’s beauty and majesty, grace and loveliness at almost every turn.
There are one or two songs that only manage to just get over the line – stumbling around in twee-territory just a bit – but for the most part this collection is magnificent.
It’s working for me on several levels: I’m reminded of how – as Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy Will Oldham has put together a great range of wonderful music. I’m reminded, within that, that he is most often at his best with a foil, or at least a companion – someone to share the weight allows him to actually commit to it rather than just swan in with a tub of moustache wax and a grubby tunic.
And I’m reminded of the stunning set of songs the great Everly Brothers left behind. In a sense the heavy lifting for this record was done with the song-selection; with the decision to cover/pay tribute to the Everlys. You could argue that McCarthy and Oldham couldn’t fail. They just needed to turn up. Well, you listen to some of Oldham’s far-too-prolific song cycles and you could wonder if he did in fact turn up.
But he’s here. Singing his heart out. And if – for just a second – you’re even close to underwhelmed by this – recognise the true strength of the record, the grace, the intention, the tribute: a lot of people that never bothered, or hadn’t in some time, will head on over to the
Everly Brothers catalogue. And have a whole new (old) world open up (either again or for the first time).
I’m loving this album. And I want to hear more from McCarthy and Oldham together; more tribute albums, more covers records – they could tap into their own version/s of what The Unthanks are also offering.