Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
It feels a little strange saying “spoiler alert” about a movie that’s closing in on fifty years old and is a huge cult favorite besides, but if you’ve seen Harold and Maude, you know the importance the Cat Stevens song “Trouble” has in the movie. The sequence is unforgettable, and one viewing will forever tie the song to that series of images.
Of course, the song didn’t need Harold and Maude to stand out – it was a key track on Mona Bone Jakon, the album that reintroduced Stevens to the listening public as an introspective singer-songwriter over a year and a half before the movie’s release. No longer a chamber-popster, Stevens looked long and hard at himself and humbly reported what he’d found to listeners who could relate. They still do.
Covers of “Trouble” tend to follow the original arrangement very closely. It’s clear the song resonates with its singers – Eddie Vedder, Elliott Smith, and Chris Cornell have all delivered similarly aching live performances. Others have struck out on other paths that show the song to be truly rewarding no matter where it takes you. Let’s listen to some of those.
Barnstar! – Trouble (Cat Stevens cover)
A bluegrass “Trouble” sounds like, well, trouble. It’s in very good hands with Banstar!, though. There are no campy sidelong winks here, no peppy solos, nothing that does the song a disservice. The harmonies are whole and warm, and the pain comes through in the way the band plays. A truly respectful cover that adds so much by bringing its genre front and center.
Kristin Hersh – Trouble (Cat Stevens cover)
On her 2001 album Sunny Border Blue, Kristin Hersh played all the instruments, ensuring that this release was her voice and hers alone. That she did so on the album’s sole cover song is all the more remarkable. The Throwing Muses founder makes “Trouble” hers with a quiet indie-band arrangement that uses silence like a club, not to mention a vocal performance that lays bare its relationship with the song’s subject matter.
Krista Michaela – Trouble (Cat Stevens cover)
Krista Michaela calls “Trouble” “one of the first songs I remember honestly loving.” Her performance of it recalls Cat Power, with its haziness, its echoing backing vocals, and the sense of completeness even when you know much is being left out. If heaven has dark back alleys, this song would be playing in them.
Tift Merritt and Simone Dinnerstein – Trouble (Cat Stevens cover)
The piano that graces Stevens’ “Trouble” is brief but crucial to the song’s beauty. Classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein brings a different kind of piano playing to the song. With the guitar no longer the focus, the song’s sadness rolls in smoother, gentler waves that take the song to a whole new level. Tift Merritt’s on that level as well, riding on (and sometimes just under) those waves with her vocal.
Father John Misty – Trouble (Cat Stevens cover)
Of these five covers, Father John Misty’s version of “Trouble” is the most similar to the original. The added instruments work here in a way they wouldn’t have in Cat Stevens’ version – the up-front drums would have derailed that one before it could get going. The reason they work here? I put it down to Father John Misty’s voice. Richer than Stevens’, less craggy, its power – even though well reined in – is not about to be denied.
Go and love Cat Stevens’ original “Trouble” some more at Amazon.