In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.
Field Report frontman Christopher Porterfield got his musical start collaborating with fellow Wisconsinite Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) in the band DeYarmond Edison. Wikipedia claims they broke up in 2006, but if that band name sounds familiar more recently, it’s because they contributed one of the absolute best covers of 2016’s 59-track Day of the Dead Grateful Dead tribute, backing Bruce Hornsby on “Black Muddy River.” Hornsby’s vocals are amazing, of course, but listen to how Porterfield, Vernon, and co. give him such a lush bed to sing over for an eight-minute cover that feels as relaxed and winding as its name sake.
Suffice to say, Porterfield knows his way around a good cover song. And he knows his way around songwriting too. We first came across the band in 2014 with “Home (Leave the Lights On),” one of the absolute best songs of the entire year. And today Field Report releases their third album, Summertime Songs. The tone is darker than Beach Boys-esq title might imply, exploring Porterfield’s anxiety before the birth of his first child. That said, like the best of Bruce Springsteen (whom the album sometimes channels), these are anxious songs that would still sound great driving down the highway with the top down. Watch the band play single “Never Look Back” on CBS This Morning last month:
Speaking of Springsteen, he’s on Porterfield’s playlist of his five favorite cover songs. In a sign of just how deep Porterfield musical knowledge extends, this is our first Pick Five not to include a single song overlapping with the previous three lists (by Emel Mathlouthi, Frank Turner, Erika Wennerstrom of Heartless Bastards). Dive in below.
1. Etta James – Are My Thoughts With You? (Mickey Newbury cover)
Christopher says: “Etta tears a classic Mickey Newbury song down to the studs and completely rebuilds it into the best house on the block. Her version eclipses the original.”
2. Feist – Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye (Leonard Cohen cover)
Christopher says: “Leslie did this for a CBC Cohen tribute when he passed. You can hear how often she walked down his hall, soaking in his work. And her voice does things that his could not. A stunner.”
3. James Blake – A Case of You (Joni Mitchell cover)
Christopher says: “Perhaps my favorite song by my favorite songwriter, I am defensive of other people even trying it. James meets it with the right spirit, and has the chops to pull it off. Beautiful.”
4. Robert Ellis – Still Crazy After All These Years (Paul Simon cover)
Christopher says: “Robert and his band got good in Houston honkytonks, playing other people’s songs for hours at a time. Their countrypolitan take on this Simon classic doesn’t dumb down the sophisticated chord voicings, but doubles down on emphasizing the emotion in their arrangement.”
5. Tortoise and Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Thunder Road (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Christopher says: “Will Oldham takes his time with the the words, letting the story really speak, underlined by a wonderfully gnarly phasey guitar line and punctuated by patient drums and that high monosynth. Bottom drops out, and builds up again. And then a fade out. I love it.”
Buy Field Report’s new album ‘Summertime Songs’ (out today on Verve Forecast) at http://www.fieldreportmusic.com.