2020 ALBUM DRAFT- ROUND 8- PICK 9- DAVE A SOUND DAY SELECTS MATTHEW SWEET AND SUSANNA HOFFS: UNDER THE COVERS VOLUME 1

Under The Covers (Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs) album.jpg

2020 Album Draft- Round 8 Pick 9- Dave- A Sound Day selects- Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs- Under The Covers Volume 1

Time to add one to the list that may not ha2ve changed the world and wasn’t altogether original…but was outstanding. An album that just screams laid-back good cheer, an album that makes me feel good when I listen to it. Bring on “head-Bangle” Susanna Hoffs and “buddy of R.E.M’s” Matthew Sweet with Under the Covers, Vol. 1. An odd album in that both the artists are talented writers and players, but there’s not one new or original song on it. But that won’t be what you’re thinking when you give it a listen.

UTC V1 is a tribute to a sound and a bygone era…the 1960s and the smart, catchy pop music that was so intrinsic to them. Music they both loved. Happily, both Susanna and Matthew had similar tastes, although Hoffs was living it more than Sweet. As he pointed out when talking about the ’70s, “I was ten years old in 1974, so I remember it more on AOR radio, and Sue was in college then, so she had a different world view.”

The age difference also showed in their careers; Susanna was in the Bangles selling records by the score in the 1980s; Sweet was just starting his musical career in the shadows, mostly in Athens, Georgia. He was a big fan of R.E.M. (he names them and Big Star as the last two bands he “fanned out” on), met them in their early days at a show in a smallish venue in Omaha, made friends with Peter Buck (who suggested he get Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys) and after talking with Michael Stipe, got a postcard a few days later telling him “Come to Athens. Make music!” He did.

In the ’90s, he put out several popular power-pop albums that did well on college radio but had only lukewarm sales compared to his friends R.E.M. Or compared to Hoffs’ Bangles. Those two met because Susanna was a fan of Matthew’s, and living in L.A., had connections. She and her husband took Mike Myers to a Matthew Sweet concert. The actor was impressed and hired both on to sing in a fictitious band (Ming Tea) used in one scene of his Austin Powers movie. The two hit it off, finding a common love of Rickenbacker guitars and the pop records made by their users (and others.) In 2006, they decided it would be fun to get together and play a few of their favorite songs of the ’60s. Under the Covers was the result; originally it was just that, but their fans were so happy with the results and they liked working together, it soon became Volume 1, as they’d do similar album tributes to the ’70s, then ’80s. “There’s just so many cool things that we both liked!” Sweet told interviewers.

“ We give a lot of weight to what the original was like, and why we found it appealing…we’re trying to be true to it,” he added. I’d say they succeeded, as did allmusic . That review site point out they “always displayed an unapologetic love of ’60s pop in their own music (so this) feels logical and right.” They add the pair “display exceptionally good taste.” That they did in song selection and playing.

Although Hoffs is a fine guitarist in her own right, for the most part she sticks to adding her lovely vocals and lets Matthew take the lead with the six-string, with the likes of Rick Menck on drums and Van Dyke Parks on keyboards. Not a bad nod to the decade there as Van Dyke was a collaborator with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys at their creative acme. “They’ve bagged the best of the ’60s with uncanny insight,” he said, “I know – I was there.”

They did and they picked a remarkable but somewhat obscure list of songs from the decade. They picked some of the best, and best known artists of the decade – the Beatles for starters, and the Who, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Bee Gees (although purists will point out the Bee Gees track included “Run to Me” was actually an early-’70s release…but it fits) and the Mamas and the Papas, but supplemented them with some lesser-known acts like Love and the Left Banke. But if tackling things like “Hey Jude” or “Won’t Get Fooled Again” might have been a bit audacious, they tended to lesser- known hits by the biggies. Arguably the most famous songs they included might be “Cinnamon Girl” and “The Kids are Alright.” The songs they covered were (and the original artists) :

I See The Rain – The Marmelade

And Your Bird Can Sing – The Beatles

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue – Bob Dylan

Who Knows Where the Time Goes? – Fairport Convention

Cinnamon Girl – Neil Young

Alone Again, Or – Love

Warmth of the Sun – Beach Boys

Different Drum – Linda Ronstadt & Stone Poneys

The Kids Are Alright – The Who

Sunday Morning – Velvet Underground

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – Neil Young (again!)

Care of Cell 44 – Zombies

Monday, Monday – Mamas & the Papas

She May Call You Up – the Left Banke

Run To Me – Bee Gees

They do a remarkable job, and to me the surprising thing is they somehow remain true to the original all the while infusing them with a sound all their own. About half the songs I knew well already (“The Kids Are Alright”, “Cinnamon Girl”, “Monday, Monday” etc., as well as “Alone Again, Or” which I knew from an ’80s cover by the Damned of all people rather than the original) and about half I must admit, I didn’t know at the time, like “Care of Cell 44”, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “She May Call You Up.” But listening to it, it played through smoothly and pleasingly, start to finish. Not only are the two friends apparently, their voices work exceptionally well together. On more of the songs, Susanna sings lead in the voice we so loved in the Bangly-’80s, with Matthew adding some harmonies and backing vocals – “Different Drum”, where she channels Ronstadt very well, for example – while on a few tracks they switch over with Matthew singing lead and “Susie” doing the background . Their summery Beach Boys tribute “Warmth of the Sun” being an example there, while here and there, like “The Kids Are Alright”, they duo all the way through. The backing band is crisp and tight, whether playing the soft rock, easy-listening Bee Gees or Mamas & the Papas songs, the flamenco-guitar laden “Alone Again, Or” or even the jangle rock anthems akin to what Sweet used to make himself – “Cinnamon Girl” with its feedback, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.”

So far as I know they didn’t release a single off the album and it would’ve been hard to pick one to “single” out. In a pinch, I’d perhaps think the joyouslove song “Care of Cell 44”, “Run to Me” (correctly picked as “a Barry Gibb masterpiece of economy and grandeur” by Hoffs) or “I See the Rain Again” might be the standouts, but there isn’t a bad track on the record. To make it better, the pair write descriptions of the songs and why they meant something to them in the liner notes. “I guess we felt more kick- assedness couldn’t be a bad thing,” they write by way of why they included “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” as a second Young song.

Their subsequent Under the Covers were good as well, but to me, this one was the cream of the crop. Perhaps because some of the songs were “new” to me it sounds fresher, given a lack of starting point for comparison; perhaps they just picked a batch of songs they were perfectly suited to performing. Either way, a loving look back at a bygone era that sounds at once authentic but very current as well. Joyous, jangly, cheery… it lacks the gravitas of some of my other picks and other albums my colleagues have chosen here, but to me, a “Sweet” little piece of comfort food for my ears I’m sure I’d most appreciate on some desert island.

24 responses to “2020 ALBUM DRAFT- ROUND 8- PICK 9- DAVE A SOUND DAY SELECTS MATTHEW SWEET AND SUSANNA HOFFS: UNDER THE COVERS VOLUME 1

  1. Being a fan of Sweet and The Bangles/ Hoffs- I bought this when I heard it was out- enjoy the three cover albums they have done- taking on big songs is a challenge- and they have done great work. I hope they put out another one…

    • I was happy to find you knew of these records already and liked them! They do a good job on all three albums, I’d be happy to hear another one, though what…? 90s songs, I guess logically.

  2. This makes me wonder where I’ve been, that I’ve never heard of this super-duo’s recordings before. What a great pick! I thoroughly enjoyed the sample songs, and the background information you provided. Looking at the track listing for this album, I’d love every one. I’m off to listen to more of their songs.

    • thanks Run! Tried to reply earlier but looks like it didn’t take. Anyway, it was on a small label and it kind of flew “under the radar”, for some reason. given her band’s success and Matthew being reasonably well-known if not a big smash hit artist, it’s surprising and a little sad it didn’t get more notice. I hope you like the rest of the record.

  3. This is a perfect combination of musicians. I’m a huge fan of the power pop of Matthew Sweet and Susana Hoffs. They don’t copy the original either…they add different things to each one without losing the reason why we like the song. I was blown away when I heard Care of Cell 44…

    Dave an excellent choice and write up.

    • thank you! Yes, it really is a pairing that works well through and through. And they do it remarkably, as you suggest, the songs are all instantly recognizable (if you know the originals) and similar YET they still sound different and cohesive.

    • It really does. I like their version also…that is saying a lot coming from me…because I love the original version. It’s very bouncy…I swear it sounds like McCartney playing the bass on the original.

  4. I loved The Bangles but am not very familiar with Matthew Sweet, and never knew about this collaborative project of theirs. But what a jubilant sound they each brought to the table, and their joy and enthusiasm really shines through on these songs. Nice pick Dave.

    • Thank you! Yes, jubilant is a good word- they really sounded like they were having fun, but they were taking the music seriously, not having a lark fooling around with it.

  5. I have got to thank you for bringing this album with this duo to my awareness, Dave. The 3 samples you picked are so good, especially Cinnamon Girl. I looked up the guitarist did the spicy flourishes (Greg Leisz) as well. You are so right, their voices combine to something that hits the eardrums just right. Will be snagging this one and any others the library has. Excellent idea by them to infuse old gold with new life. Great write-up, Dave, and addition to the Island Draft. I hope these islands are an archipelago so we can set up a zip line (or cable cars) between all of them 🙂

  6. Holy crap, how have I not heard of this? I like both these artists, and their track list is great! I bought Sweet’s “Girlfriend” album back when it came out, got rid of it, regretted it, then re-purchased it twenty years later. And oh, Susanna… 🙂

    • LOL, I know what you mean! i had a couple of Matthew Sweet albums back then, ‘Girlfriend’ being one and I think the other was called ‘100% fun’… both were quite good, a little uneven but both had some really fine tracks.
      These albums deserved better but were on a small label and seemed to fly ‘under the radar’.

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