In the most recent edition of The Voice Project, an ongoing project employing covers from indie artists to raise money and awareness for the plight of women in Uganda and Central Africa, Cillie Barnes invited cameras into her home to record her singing an interpretation of the song “Million Dollar Bill” by fellow LA folkies Dawes. Barnes, the musical moniker of Vanessa Jeanne Long, teamed up with Joe Keefe on acoustic guitar for the cover, which mostly follows Taylor Goldsmith’s original composition, except for a few glaring changes.
Once an artist decides to interpret a cover rather than perform it faithfully, they generally opt to either increase or decrease the energy of the original performance, instilling it with either more rock drive or quiet intimacy. In their original songs, Providence folkies The Low Anthem sit decidedly on the most delicate side of that spectrum, to the point that it wouldn’t seem possible to make their songs more mellow. Much to my our surprise, though, Brooklyn-based Firehorse frontwoman Leah Siegel pulls off that exact feat in her new video for The Voice Project, with strikingly beautiful results.
Minnesotan folksinger Mason Jennings has been known to cover songs that he particularly likes, whether they’re in his genre, like Bob Dylan and John Lennon classics, or they’re unexpected acoustic versions of Rage Against The Machine. In his recent video for The Voice Project, he adds one of rock’s best-known songs to his collection: Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.” Inspired by his Withers-fan parents and the unbelievable 2009 documentary Still Bill (which is available for streaming on Netflix if you haven’t seen it yet), Jennings pulled up a bar stool before his show with the Pines in Vancouver last week to record this gorgeous take on the ubiquitous song.
Mark Kozelek, leader of now defunct ’90s group Red House Painters and the sole member of Sun Kil Moon, has made a name for himself as an excellent cover artist. From his entire album of Modest Mouse covers (which many reviewers initially thought was new material) to his heartfelt album of AC/DC covers, his haunting voice immediately reveals the sadness behind any song. Mark’s own material is even more dense and has an instantly recognizable quality to it. Perhaps that’s why there are so few covers of his songs.
Indie star Sufjan Stevens’ “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” is probably the most complex song ever written about a serial killer. The song, from Stevens’ Illinois album, presents the Chicago killer as a multidimensional character and, while not openly sympathetic, definitely plays in shades of gray rather than black and white. In the end, Stevens’ confession that, with the secrets in his own closet, “I am really just like him,” is creepy enough to produce goosebumps.
Cover lovers around the world should feel indebted to the creators of the Voice Project. Week after week, this group of musically-inclined philanthropists brings musicians and fans together for the sake of song and charity and in doing so gives all of us a slew of wonderful covers to enjoy. We have already featured a number of the Voice Project’s finest covers, but feel inclined to continue the coverage since everything they drop is just that good.