There is not a true music fan out there who has not dreamed of doing exactly what Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl does on Just Like the Others: cover their favorite songs. In our minds, we love nothing more than spreading the gospel, as it were, and I'm not talking the gospel of McCartney or Springsteen or Neil Young, unless it be that undiscovered gem one finds occasionally on a long lost tape or scribbled on a music sheet hidden in some attic somewhere. I'm talking about the gospel as written and/or played by the little known or unknown, or played so seldom by the known that its inclusion in concert becomes the main focus of a concert review.
Well, don't ask me how they did it, but Amy Ross (Whiskey Girl) and husband Nowhere Man (Derrick Ross) found plenty to include here. The album is, front to back, packed with a handful of surprisingly good lesser known songs by the somewhat known (Gillian Welch, Joanna Newsom and Tori Amos, for instance) and even lesser known songs by the virtually unknown (World Class Thugs, Sleepwalker, Sweetbleeders), each done with an amazingly deft touch.
Amy Ross, lucky girl, blessed with pipes of a goodly range, wraps each song around her as if they were her own, giving them a fresh edge to say the least. Her phrasing breathes such life into a few that they are given not only new direction, but new meaning altogether. Fiver's Song, a laughing look at life through a pit bull's mind (Fatigo must have people spewing beer when they perform it) becomes an almost Old Friends (Simon & Garfunkel) pensive look at a pit bull's existence through a human's eyes. Lightly theatrical, one could see it among the best of the best of musical theater. World Class Thugs, if they've heard the Ross's version of Girls Who Wear Glasses, have probably talked about taking it out of their repertoire as, supposedly, Jimmy Eat World has done with Crush. I guess that in this Jimmy-Eat-World of competitive music, when you get one-upped, you'd better know it.
Even Tori Amos and Gillian Welch have to be pleased with what Amy Ross brings to their songs. Amos's Beulah Land has a White Mansions treatment cushioned by some really fine piano, and when Amy one-twos the gospel blues of Jolie Holland's Old Fashioned Morphine and the slow and hazy, boy-am-I-wasted feel of Gillian Welch's My Morphine, you cannot listen without being impressed.
Kidding will certainly impress, though, partially because it is one beautiful song but mostly because it gives Amy a chance to show range, both vocally and emotionally. While I have not been able yet to track down Sleepwalker's version, it is now on the top of my list of things to do, though I know their version will not lessen that of the Whiskey Girl. It's that good.
Before I make you think this album is all vocal and piano, let me say this: the success of this album goes way beyond mere performance, as good as it is. The choice of songs and the arrangements are the real story here. To choose a Jolie Holland or an Edie Brickell song may show a semblance of profundity, for aren't we all looking for something beyond the same old? But to choose a Fatigo song or a World Class Thugs or a Sweetbleeders, that is not only guts, it shows a musical sensitivity. To be fair, it is also regional for a handful of the covers here are Arizonal by region. How cool is it that Amy and Derrick recognize those songs? By my thermometer, way cool.
Judging by the reviews already written, I'm not the only one jumping on the whiskey train to nowhere. Others are hearing what I'm hearing. The hardest thing to reconcile in my mind is that I swore that, what with all of the tribute bands out there, I would give albums of covers neither time nor energy, and yet here I am considering Just Like the Others a Top Five of 2008 pick. Huh.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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