Pick Five: Whitehorse

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Sep 112018

In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.

whitehorse cover songs

Two years ago, Whitehorse, the Canadian husband-and-wife duo made up of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, made our Best of 2016 list with their covers EP The Northern South, Vol. 1. Well, a volume one demands a volume two (someone remind Bob Dylan), and that finally arrives in January. On The Northern South, Vol. 2, the pair cover blues legends like Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo, but not in the bar-band-choogler fashion you most often hear these songs performed. Get a taste with the first single, a version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talkin'” that sounds like Chess Records via Muscle Shoals:

You have to wait until January to hear more – unless you’re in Nashville this week, where the duo have two shows at AmericanaFest on Thursday: 4pm @ The Local (WMOT) and 10pm @ The Basement (I’ve seen them live, and can confirm they are not to be missed). Doucet and McClelland took some time out from rehearsing their own covers to tell us about their favorite cover songs. Though their music often gets pegged as bluesy Americana, their tastes span the genre gamut. They also, consciously or not, seem drawn to other bands with “horse” in the name.

Cat Power – Satisfaction (The Rolling Stones cover)

Melissa says: “I remember the first time I listened to the Cat Power Covers record. She opens with an iconic song, but her delivery and the sparseness of the arrangement and the production left me scratching my head. The melody is so, so, so familiar, but she won’t give us the satisfaction (sorry, couldn’t resist). She completely leaves out the song’s lyrical hook ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’. It took me way too long to figure out what song she was singing and then once I finally did, I kind of never wanted to hear the original again. Her interpretation is brilliant. The rest of the record takes this approach and her commitment to this sound is seamless from top to bottom.”

Nina Simone – Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (Bob Dylan cover)

Melissa says: “Nina Simone’s voice has remained one the finest sounds to my ears since the first time I heard it. The nuance, depth, fragility anchored in pure power makes her voice the perfect vessel for storytelling. She can deliver a story like no other. Except maybe Bob Dylan. So when I heard her version of ‘Tom Thumb’s Blues’ I was completely hooked. The song meanders and hypnotizes and never makes a big deal out of itself, yet there’s still something achingly sad and beautiful in the delivery. I have a distinct memory of driving around the suburbs as a teenager listening to this song on repeat after hearing of Nina Simone’s passing.”

The Pretenders – Stop Your Sobbing (The Kinks cover)

Melissa says: “This isn’t the first time I’ve fallen in love with a song by hearing its cover version first. After reading Chrissie Hynde’s autobiography I fell into a YouTube hole watching live footage of the Pretenders. I was particularly taken by a very early performance of ‘Stop Your Sobbing.’ I already knew their version of it, but there was something so charming about this performance that got me officially hooked on the song. Fast forward a week later and I picked up some Kinks vinyl for our 3 year old son. The opening song is ‘Stop Your Sobbing’ and suddenly all the musical pieces of cool bands and cool songs fell into place. I now make sure to bookend all my playlists with these two versions of a brilliant tune. Our son also loves to dance to this song, but he’s definitely more of a Kinks fan.”

Luke adds: “In the hands of Ray Davies, the lyric almost has a school-yard bullying tone, that borders on the ‘there, there, little girl’ in its paternalism, although a great piece of song craft nonetheless. It’s somehow even more tragic when you hear it coming from Chrissie Hynde, because she’s simultaneously the toughest and sexiest woman of her era. As a bit of a sissy myself, I desperately want her to like me and I see myself like I see my son Jimi when he decides that he’s cried enough (after all, the milk won’t un-spill).”

Ryan Adams – Wonderwall (Oasis cover)

Lule says: “He airs on the side of irony a lot, which I think is unnecessary given how effective (and prolific) he can be but I think this was a sincere homage, which is why I dig it. I think he’s a sincere fan of the Gallaghers as writers. He also mines the epic, anthemic, fist pumping sing-a-long to great effect, especially lately with Ryan Adams (self titled) and Prisoner. These records harken back to the simpler Heartbreakers/B. Adams/Oasis era of keeping it simple and proud. ‘Wonderwall’ might have been the genesis for where Adams has landed.”

Sparklehorse – I’m So Sick of Goodbyes (Cracker cover)

Lule says: “This is a Cracker (David Lowery et al) and Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) co-write so not technically a cover, however Cracker recorded and released it first. The poignancy lands posthumously, sadly, with Linkous’ 2010 suicide. It appear that his was a life where “the night comes crawling in on all fours” on ‘…vampire planets.'”

Pre-order Whitehorse’s ‘The Northern South Vol. 2’ at Six Shooter Records or catch them at their AmericanaFest shows:
9/13 – 4pm @ The Local (WMOT)
9/13 – 10pm @ The Basement

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  3 Responses to “Pick Five: Whitehorse”

Pingbacks (3)
  1. […] Canadian Americana (Canadicana?) duo Whitehorse have their second set of blues covers coming out soon, but after Petty passed they took a turn away from Slim Harpo and Jimmy Reed to cover a song almost […]

  2. […] 2, their latest blues-covers LP, in January (we spoke to them about their own favorite cover songs last month). Their cover of “Baby, Scratch My Back” is a highlight, slower and groovier than some […]

  3. […] cover of Slim Harpo’s “Baby, Scratch My Back,” and also learned about some of the favorite covers of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, the husband and wife that make up the […]

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