Cover songs are a tricky territory to navigate. Paying tribute to another artist is well and good, but sometimes a painting or an album liner notes mention is the better route to take. The force that compels lesser beings to try their hand at cherished classics is, unfortunately, often insurmountable, as many covers are better left on the cutting room floor, rather than unleashed upon the public. See: Omarion's destruction of Aaliyah's "One In A Million" and Jodeci's "Come And Talk To Me." Enter Bon Iver, introduced to urban ears via Kanye West's "Lost In the World." I must admit that I'm not quite head-over-heels for lead singer Justin Vernon as many rappers appear to be. Yes, he is talented, but the "his voice is an instrument" praises I see are more extreme and courteous than anything, in my opinion. He stopped by Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to discuss his band's upcoming Bon Iver, Bon Iver, and he offered his take on three classics.
After the bounce
First, Donny Hathaway's version of Leon Russell's "A Song
For You." Mind you, Mr. Hathaway's cover sits in my top three songs ever
recorded. Bon Iver's version? Well, the piano accompaniment was
enjoyable. His haunting falsetto typically floats smoothly over his own
sonically enhanced creations. A stripped-down affair is a different
story. This, you see, was televised karaoke; he couldn't be more
unsoulful if he tried. Hear the shaky vocals as he sings, "...made some
bad rhymes..." in the second line. Stage fright? You be the
judge. This is Donny Hathaway he's attempting. There is certainly
struggle in his voice, but where is the anguish in his delivery? The
songs that followed (Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" and "Nick of Time") were pedestrian. Forgettable. What is lacking overall is
the conviction. Good intentions, bad execution. His take was more
"Hey...I think...I like you," and less "You are my everything and I'll
die for you." A bad pre-Pharrell Robin Thicke impersonation at best. Don't sing this song for me, sir. I'll pass.