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Arts and Culture

The Rise of the Cover Song

Some thoughts on Will Ferrell, Stereogum, and a new trend in music.

By Thom Wong 14 Jan 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Thom Wong writes regularly about music for The Tyee. He can also be found ruminating about the state of menswear at The Sunday Best.

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Mollie Weaver, bathed in the hot glow of Thom Wong's admiration.

There is a regrettable scene in the under-rated movie Step Brothers in which Will Ferrell sings "Con Te Partiro" in Spanish ("Por Ti Volare"). It's regrettable not because it's not very funny, which it is, but because "Con Te Partiro" is a song for which I hold a lot of affection, despite or perhaps because of its maudlin sentimentality. Ferrell's version also now colours every other version I hear of it, and makes it impossible for me to listen to, say, Andrea Bocelli's without laughing.

It seems to me that one musical trend of the 2000's went largely unnoticed, and that is the rise, from a critical perspective, of the cover song. Dark Was the Night , a benefit album of covers, was one of the best-reviewed records of 2009 (I only didn't mention it because it had already been heavily Pitchforked). AC Newman's cover of "Take On Me" was briefly as popular as a-ha's; website Stereogum has made a bit of a habit of releasing cover albums on the anniversary of seminal works.  

Go to YouTube, enter the name of your favourite artist and the word "cover," and you'll be 'treated' to more acoustic guitar versions than you thought possible, with helpful commentary pointing out how much better the original is. Naysay all you want, but even if you think Cage the Elephant's "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" is our generation’s "A Day in the Life," how can you deny the appeal of one young man splicing together his guitar, keyboards, and tambourine toe-tapping? And even though Death By April is a silly band with a stupid name, how can you help but admire the very serious looking Javi Perera who mixed five separate videos for his cover of "Losing You"?

Often a cover will do little more than remind you that you like the song in the first place. But a good cover will both remind you and offer you another way to look at it, or give you a renewed appreciation for it. Which leads us to Mollie Weaver's version of the aforementioned "Con Te Partiro." A New York-based singer, Weaver is better known for folk music -- not to be unflattering -- reminiscent of Norah Jones. But her cover of "Con Te Partiro," to the accompaniment of simple acoustic guitar, is a wonder -- light, fresh, beautifully phrased, it even manages to make me forget Will Ferrell for a while.

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