Thursday, November 6, 2014
"Method Acting/Cortez the Killer" – The Cover Version(s) #2
Some music for your Thursday.
In my initial post about great cover versions of popular songs, I noted that often musicians who are themselves talented songwriters produce some of the best covers. Today’s selection certainly does nothing to disprove this, as the team of Gillian Welch & David Rawlings have produced some of the most compelling music in the “singer/songwriter” vein over the past 20 years. & indeed, if you look around on YouTube, you’ll notice that Welch & Rawlings also do a number of great covers. Interestingly, not all of those involve music in the “Americana” vein that this duo calls its musical home—they cover material from bands as diverse as the Jefferson Airplane & Radiohead, as well as songs closer to home like selections from Townes Van Zandt & Bob Dylan songbooks.
In a bit of a twist on the usual, Rawlings is the lead singer here, with Welch providing vocal harmony. Of course, Rawlings has his own act (which typically includes Welch), the Dave Rawlings Machine, & despite being known most for his beautiful guitar work, he’s also a singer who can employ great tone & feeling.
The medley Rawlings has put together here works nicely. Bright Eyes’ song “Method Acting” moves quite seamlessly into one of Neil Youg’s best songs, “Cortez the Killer.” Rawlings has said the combination came together simply by playing “Method Acting” on his own & stumbling across the musical connection. Others have pointed out how similar “Method Acting” is to the Neil Young song “Camera,” & suggested that Rawlings may also have noted this. However, I can find no indication beyond speculation that he actually made this connection. Lyrically as well as musically, the songs complement each other well, especially given the powerful moment in "Cortez the Killer" when the song turns abruptly from Young's mytho-historical reading of the Mexican conquest to a stanza that poignantly speaks of lost love. It really is a startling musical moment, & it takes someone with Young's songwriting skill to put it across. Rawlings & Welch underline this moment beautifully in their performance.
Gillian Welch & David Rawlings always bring so much immediacy to their music. As a duo, their sound is intimate—voices, acoustic guitars. This is a beautiful & moving performance.
Image links to its source. This is an image that Welch makes available as part of her press kit. The original photograph is by Mark Seliger.