More about: Whitney
When an artist decides to release an album entirely of covers, it begs the question ‘what is the point when releasing such a project?’. You expect to hear the artist’s personal stamp on each song, a slice of their personality or brand that differentiates their version from the original. As an idea, an album of covers can sometimes be more interesting in theory but ultimately fail to live up to the quality of the original tracks.
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For the Chicago indie folk outfit Whitney, their third album release comes in the form of Candid. Entirely made up of reworked versions of shared favourites that fall outside of their musical comfort zone. "This could've been as simple as saying we really love these songs and we love our bandmates and making a covers record just felt right, but it truly became an exploration into how we can evolve as a band going forward,” the band’s drummer and singer Julien Ehrlich explains. With a glance through the tracklisting, it’s obvious how the band have truly thrown themselves into exploring their capabilities with a wide range of mostly niche tracks. With covers ranging from 90s RnB girl-group SWV to enigmatic country music singer Blaze Foley and the idiosyncratic character Moondog it is clear the band aren’t looking to cash in on the popularity of existing tracks. This further proves the band’s attempt to explore and evolve their sound, without delving too much into obscure hipster territory.
The album kicks off with the introductory track ‘Bank Head’, originally by American alternative RnB singer-songwriter Kelela. A simple bass drum coincides with occasional short piano chords as Ehrlich’s falsetto takes precedence and is eventually met with various stringed instrument riffs as the song builds to a close. Followed by a recognisable sounding rendition of Julien Jurado’s cathartic ‘A.M. A.M’, full of brass and slide guitar lines, you’d be hard pressed not to expect this is a Whitney original taken straight from the leftovers of the previously released LPs.
If you’re a new listener, the first few tracks provide a perfect introductory lesson into the sound the band have achieved over their past releases. Followed by what is clearly the most recognisable song on the album is a cover of Jon Denver’s legendary country anthem, ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ featuring a strong vocal performance from Waxahatchee vocalist Katie Crutchfield. The vocals of both Ehrlich and Crutchfield capture the heart of the original, both sounding great alongside each other on an iconic American classic. A song however restrictive in its simplicity and with little room to manoeuvre around suggests this was an easy uninspired track on an album full of exploration and challenge.
Regaining its positive momentum in the form of David Byrne and Brian Eno’s electronic-gospel hit, ‘Strange Overtones’, the track is given an Americana sounding overhaul, with the full Whitney treatment. An upbeat number with delicious synths and the sweet tones of various guitar riffs with Ehrlich’s secondary role as drummer reminding us that he’s more than just a vocalist. ‘Hammond Song’ is an earnest and heartfelt effort at New York sister trio, The Roches most notable track. It lacks the beauty and charm of the compelling three part harmonies heard in the original which really makes it so special - but it’s an honest attempt nonetheless.
This notion of honesty is clearly something the band understood themselves by naming the album Candid. As much as the covers may not always outdo the originals, as listeners you’re treated to a collection of songs you may never have stumbled across. Not only does it show the musical ability of the band, which can be heard in their first two LPs, it also proves its point as an album full of exploration for not only them but the listener too. As much of an incentive as it is to listen to Whitney’s back catalogue, this album is best appreciated by exploring the artists and their original recordings.
Candid is released on 14 August 2020 via Secretly Canadian.
More about: Whitney