Various Artists – Cover Stories

Cover StoriesTen years ago, Brandi Carlile, along with brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth, released their breakthrough record The Story. While it didn’t make them household names, it has had more than its share of successes. From giving them their only Hot 100 hit (the #75-peaking title track, which also hit #1 in Portugal, because why not), to helping them pave the way to some big-name collaborators including Sir Elton John and Rick Rubin, among others, to landing its hidden track Hiding My Heart as a deluxe track on the biggest album of the century, Adele’s 21.

Brandi Carlile and Barack ObamaEven if you’re not familiar with Brandi Carlile, you’ve heard her music. And who else has heard her music? President Barack Obama, of course. Citing “her beautiful songs and unforgettable voice,” he contributed a foreward for the tenth anniversary edition of The Story, aptly titled Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of The Story – An Album to Benefit War Child, featuring covers by an incredible blend of musicians, from newcomers to legends.

The blueprint for Cover Stories began with Adele’s cover, which did make the final tracklist after some behind-the-scenes work from Brandi and co. From there, Brandi got the ball rolling on what would become their latest landmark achievement. With contributions from Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, The Avett Brothers and Pearl Jam, Cover Stories quickly became a big deal.

What’s even more impressive is how well the compilation complements the original.

These new versions don’t attempt to duplicate the original album, nor do they attempt to drive them too far to be different. Dolly stays close on her cover of The Story, staying in familiar territory but with her own Dolly twist. Anderson East provides the collection’s best matchup with his criminally-underappreciated vocals for Josephine, featuring Miranda Lambert on backing vocals. The Indigo Girls offer a somewhat jazzy cover of Cannonball (a song they originally sang backup on ten years ago), and Margo Price kills it with her sweet country rendition of Downpour.

The missteps are few and far between. It takes until the second verse of Late Morning Lullaby for everything to fall into place with Shovels & Rope. Kris Kristofferson’s mostly spoken-word cover of Turpentine is haunting and vulnerable with Chris Stapleton on guitar and daughter Kelly on backing vocals, leading to the realization of what it could have been wonderful as a duet. Pearl Jam’s Again Today rocks harder than the original, naturally, but it doesn’t hit as hard without the contrasting softness of the verses. Perhaps the only true question mark is with Jim James‘ psychedelic indie rock cover of Wasted. At just under two minutes, the song is a trip where the ever-poignant lyrics get lost in the noise on what was previous an album highlight.

With Cover Stories, the benefits are twofold. It’s all for a good cause and it’s a chance to appreciate this should-be classic album all over again. That these recordings by such a range of musicians with such a range of experience can create as cohesive a collection of covers reminiscent of their originals as this speaks to Brandi and the twins’ abilities as song-crafters. No matter how you look at it, everyone involved wins.
Four stars

1. Late Morning Lullaby – Shovels & Rope
2. The Story – Dolly Parton
3. Turpentine – Kris Kristofferson
4. My Song – Old Crow Medicine Show
5. Wasted – Jim James
6. Have You Ever – The Avett Brothers
7. Josephine – Anderson East
8. Losing Heart – The Secret Sisters
9. Cannonball – Indigo Girls
10. Until I Die – Torres
11. Downpour – Margo Price
12. Shadow On The Wall – Ruby Amanfu
13. Again Today – Pearl Jam
14. Hiding My Heart – Adele

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