Sep 072012

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Jon Bon Jovi was on VH1 Storytellers, telling the audience about the cover he’d just performed. “Bruce wishes he wrote that song,” he said. “I wish I wrote that song even more. But it was that grouchy old guy from California.”

Indeed it was. Tom Waits had fallen in sha-la-la-la-love with Kathleen Brennan (born in Johnsburg, IL; raised in Morristown, NJ), and he wanted the world to know. “Jersey Girl” marked the moment Waits climbed out of the gutter to be with the one he loved. He sings of crossing the river to the Jersey side; it could be the Hudson River, but it could also be the river Styx, with Waits leaving the underworld behind to rejoin the carnival of Planet Earth. All for the love of a woman. What could be more romantic?

Rarely was a song ever more destined for an artist to cover than “Jersey Girl” for Bruce Springsteen. It became a live favorite, appearing as a B-side to “Cover Me” (great title!) and finding a spot on his epic Live/1975-85. When asked to comment, Waits rasped, “Bruce Springsteen? Well, I’ve done all I can for him. He’s on his own now.” Here are five other artists who also benefitted from Waits doing all he could for them…

Holly Cole – Jersey Girl (Tom Waits cover)

Holly Cole’s 1995 release Temptation consisted entirely of Tom Waits covers, showcasing not only her impeccable taste, but her great interpretive skills, handling songs from throughout Waits’s career with all kinds of style and grace. This smooth jazzy version appeared on 1998’s Live from the Mountain Stage Lounge.

Bacon Brothers – Jersey Girl (Tom Waits cover)

Tom Waits starred in the movie Short Cuts with Chris Penn, who starred in Footloose with Kevin Bacon. Kevin cut those two degrees of separation down to one when he and his brother Michael covered “Jersey Girl” on 1999’s Getting There. Most reviews of the Bacon Brothers’ albums express some kind of surprise that their work is no vanity project a movie star passes time with between shoots; listen for yourself and decide what the Bacon Brothers have that Dogstar or 30 Odd Foot of Grunts don’t.

Claudia Bettinaglio – Jersey Girl (Tom Waits cover)

Like Cole before her, Claudia Bettinaglio made an all-Waits cover album, with songs ranging across three decades; in her case, it was her debut album, a gutsy move that paid off once listeners heard her rich strong voice wrap itself around Waits’s lyrics. Hearing her version of “Jersey Girl” is like seeing a barroom floor scrubbed down to reveal beautiful mahogany wood.

Hell Blues Choir – Jersey Girl (Tom Waits cover)

Greetings from Hell is the Hell Blues Choir’s all-Waits album (their other album is all-Ray Charles). We’ve featured the Prides of Norway’s Waits work before; here they are being faithful to the music behind and within Waits’s words.

Pale Saints – Jersey Girl (Tom Waits cover)

The Pale Saints were members of good standing in the 4AD stable in the ’90s, but after key member Ian Masters’ departure, the writing was on the wall, and by the end of 1996 the ethereal popsters had disbanded. Their final track appeared on Step Right Up: The Songs of Tom Waits. As swan songs go, they made theirs count, making “Jersey Girl” into something new, just as beautiful with shimmering electric atmospherics as it was with strings and a stand-up bass.

Tom Waits for you at his website.

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