Design By Humans
Published On: Sun, Apr 7th, 2013

What The Brothers Sang: Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie “Prince” Billy

bpbDawn McCarthy & Bonnie “Prince” Billy
What the Brothers Sang
(Drag City Records)

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The Everly Brothers have gone down in history as classic hitmakers of country-tinged rock ‘n’ roll. Their standards have often been covered by popular artists, but Dawn McCarthy and Bonnie “Prince” Billy (Will Oldham) have taken things a step further by creating a whole album of covers. What the Brothers Sang is energetic and nostalgic, bringing new listeners to some of the Everly Brothers’ less well-known material.

Often, McCarthy and Oldham stick to the Everlys’ harmonizing vocal style, but they somehow manage to avoid any sort of sexual chemistry. There’s nothing flirtatious about their interplay, and rightfully so. The pair are able to capture emotion in their plaintive tones without directing the lines toward one another, as becomes apparent in a song like “Devoted to You.” Likewise, “What Am I Living For” seems like a plea to apathetic partners from both parties, with the vocal parts threading together like some of Low’s finest moments.

Even as the tracks are updated a little due to McCarthy’s gender, the music still remains vintage ‘60s. “Milk Train” features an accordion solo that manages to sound Western rather than kitschy, and the gradual swell and blissful celebration of “Omaha” has hints of gospel. Rock is still represented as well on tracks like “Somebody Help Me,” which retains the punch of the Spencer Davis Group original.

As is the risk with albums of covers, not all of the songs hang together. This feels less like an album and more like a collection, but McCarthy and Oldham have nailed the tone and pulse of the Everlys. It’s a fitting tribute, just not one I would often listen to all the way through in one sitting.

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What The Brothers Sang: Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie “Prince” Billy