Known mostly for her rootsy, original Americana-flavored folk-pop songs, nothing in the music of Kris Delmhorst immediately suggests a deep affinity with proto-punk new-wave masters The Cars, and yet a dozen years into a career at the nexus of folk, indie-pop, and Americana, Delmhorst has taken a brief vacation from her own literate songwriting to bring us CARS, a collection of songs by the band that defined an era, on which Delmhorst uncovers an organic, moody rawness hidden beneath Ric Ocasek’s new-wave production values.
Balancing classic hits and deep cuts, Delmhorst has painstakingly deconstructed every hook-laden arrangement, every unforgettable line, creating a sonic palette inventively recast: Ric Ocasek’s herky-jerky bravado is replaced by the amber warmth of Delmhorst’s luminescent voice; the processed, synth-heavy aesthetic of the originals is reinvented with an array of organic instruments including fiddle, accordion, upright bass, suitcase drum kit, mandolin, clarinet, pennywhistle, and harmonica. But even with the rootsy re-arrangements, in her hands — and in her sultry vocals — a classic, well-worn radio hit like “Shake It Up” is a delectable bit of come-hither hippie-funk – think The Band or Little Feat if Shawn Colvin were the lead singer.
Delmhorst assembled a boisterous band of multi-instrumentalists and a chorus of women singers to bring a variety of sounds to the party. Opting for a session as loose and live as possible, they cut the album in two days with as many as ten players performing live at one time. In a twist of serendipity, mutual acquaintances connected Delmhorst with Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes, who signed on to add ukulele on a number of the tracks, bringing the project full circle.
Pop standards like “You Might Think” and “Shake It Up” are faithfully – and danceably – covered, while the rockers include a stripped-down version of “Just What I Needed,” a moody and mind-bending “Hello Again,” and an explosive take on the lesser-known “Getting Through.” Perhaps most fascinating is the newly discovered interior landscape of ballads like “Drive,” “You Wear Those Eyes.” and “Magic,” which appears here as a tender finger style ballad gilded by shimmering layers of background harmony. Some of the results echo Suzanne Vega’s more experimental tracks recorded with then-husband/producer Mitchell Froom in the 1990s.
CARS offers recreation in both senses: a joyful lark partnered with serious interpretation, the uncomplicated love of youthful fandom paired with a deep attention to and respect for craft. Delmhorst – an alumna of nearby Williams College — offers up an exuberant and moving dream of the summer of 1984 painted in new colors.
Delmhorst was born in Brooklyn in 1970 and has been a wide ranging and restless consumer and producer of music ever since. Her previous Signature Sounds releases include 2008’s largely self-recorded Shotgun Singer, “a work of lo-fi beauty… evidence of an artist taking flight” (Boston Herald), “Beautifully flaunts a minimalist artistic approach .. among the best tunes Delmhorst has ever recorded” (No Depression), and 2006’s Strange Conversation, a collection of songs inspired by the work of famous poets.
Longtime disciple of the rich and strange music that sings behind the American veil, Jeffrey Foucault has spent the last decade mining the darker seams of country and blues, producing a string of spare and elemental albums of rare power while garnering accolades for a tersely elegant brand of songwriting set apart by its haunting imagery and weather-beaten cool.
The new album Horse Latitudes on Signature Sounds, features Eric Heywood (Pretenders, Ray Lamontagne) on pedal steel and electric guitars, Jennifer Condos (Ray Lamontagne, Sam Phillips) on electric bass, Billy Conway (Morphine, Twinemen) on drums, and Van Dyke Parks (Ry Cooder, Lowell George, Brian Wilson) on keys.
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