The Bird And The Bee
Interpreting The Masters, Volume 2: A Tribute To Van Halen
No Expectations / Release Me Records
It’s been a long wait of nine years since The Bird And The Bee gave us its first covers/tribute project (the magnificent Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall & John Oates) and they didn’t have to do a whole lot there in the transforming of the songs, so didn’t. Great pop songs performed by great pop practitioners. No-brainer. Maybe a few closeted Hall & Oates fans (why there should be such a thing I don’t know) felt suddenly free and a few Bird and Bee fans were introduced to some pop music from a couple of decades earlier. But all in all a winning and unsurprising combo.
It’s a little different this time but the result is every bit as pleasing – paying tribute to the music of Van Halen – is more of a stretch and provides some interesting tonal differences. Hard rock is turned into jazz-inflected pop, male vocals are replaced by a female voice and most brilliantly a band nearly everyone knows is all about the guitar has its music rearranged for keyboards.
Greg Kurstin is the multi-instrumentalist (“the bee”) and Inara George the vocalist (also “the bird”). Both do an amazing job producing their own original music in this duo format but also have many other musical projects on the go.
They’ve never sounded better than here – reshaping the biggest and best of the Van Halen songs (Panama, Jump, Runnin’ With The Devil, Hot For Teacher, Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love, Unchained) with perfect pop poker-faces; only the slyest of nods and winks going on. These are music lovers loving the music they’re making. Besides they’d already outed themselves as fans of David Lee Roth with their own tune Diamond Dave which is included here as a coda to the record.
Brilliantly, Kurstin even takes on Eruption – the famous Eddie Van Halen guitar solo that has been trotted out at every concert. It doesn’t sound out of place at the piano given that Van Halen was evoking some of the classical music masters with his ode to two-hand tapping.
George is often the start of the show with her brilliant vocals and the reframing of many of the songs (Hot For Teacher, Unchained, Ain’t Talkin’) that occurs when given over to her voice.
It’s one of my favourite albums of the year. Makes a case for Bird and Bee as one of the best bands going, a (further) case for Van Halen as one of the best bands ever. And I’ve heard even Billie Eilish is digging it pretty hard!
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