"Angel" / The Wood Brothers
"The Wind Cries Mary" / Robyn Hitchcock
I've got nothing against Jimi Hendrix -- it's just Jimi worshippers who annoy me. You know, the guys who go on and on about what a genius he was, greatest guitarist ever, blah blah blah. Jimi's like the rock-n-roll equivalent of James Joyce or T.S. Eliot -- a wonderful unique talent who led all his successors down an artistic blind alley. I blame Jimi for every long-winded tedious guitar solo I've suffered through in the past 40 years, and just for good measure, I'll blame most of the drum and organ solos on him too. Come on, since when was puttting a lit match to your guitar a creative act? I'm with John Hiatt on the arrogance of wrecking a perfectly good guitar.
I'm having to backtrack a little on my Jimi rejection lately, though, thanks to these two addictive new Hendrix covers. I strongly believe that a cover version of any song should bring something new to it; that was always hard to do with Hendrix tracks. Maybe we just needed this much time to pass before musicians could feel free to re-imagine his songs.
The Wood Brothers are one of my new discoveries, a totally captivating duo who combine Oliver Wood's thumping jazz acoustic bass with brother Chris's crunching buzzsaw of a Southern rock guitar. The result is sorta folk, sorta bluegrass, sorta roots-rock, and one hundred percent enchanting. They cover Hendrix' song "Angel" on their new album Loaded, and it's a revelation. I remember "Angel" as a langorous sex plaint encrusted with show-off riffs; the Wood brothers give it a light-hearted zydeco strut that's like turning devils-food cake into angel food cake.
They've roped in Amos Lee to share singing duties with Oliver, and the contrast between Oliver's distinctive raspy tenor and Amos' honey-and-buttermilk vocals is delicious indeed. The backing arrangement is mostly drums, some syncopated organ chords for shimmer, and just a few jangly strums on Chris' guitar. Freed of Jimi's ponderous tone, the song takes off joyfully, putting the poetry back into this "story about the love between the moon and the deep blue sea."
Then there's Robyn Hitchcock's version of Jimi's "The Wind Cries Mary" on his new album Shadow Cat. (If I haven't mentioned it, I have such a crush on Robyn Hitchcock it isn't funny.) The psychedelic imagery of this song is right up Robyn's alley -- "After all the jacks are in their boxes / And the clowns have all gone to bed / You can hear happiness staggering on down the street" sounds just like something Robyn might have written himself.
Delivering absurdist lyrics is second nature to this man, and he layers on the breathy vocals, exaggerating a groan or a growl here and there. There's a knowing wink behind it all, turning a heavy trip into phantasmagoria. Hitchcock prowls through this song like a cartoon cat; though he replicates that classic riff of Jimi's, Robyn's acoustic version is hushed and stealthy rather than sinister. Somehow he draws me into this bizarro landscape more deeply than Jimi ever could; I never even noticed the lyrics before. But then Jimi was never about lyrics, was he?
Neither the Woods brothers nor Robyn Hitchcock seem too awed by Jimi's godlike stature to take a few liberties. Well, it's about time.
The Wind Cries Mary sample