Review: The Bird and the Bee, “Interpreting the Masters, Volume 2: (A Tribute to Van Halen)”
Nine years after The Bird and the Bee’s first cover album, Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates, Volume 2 has arrived, and let me tell you, it is worth the wait. The duo had me when they released “Ain’t Talking ’bout Love” as a single. (If you haven’t seen the live version with Dave Grohl on drums, stop everything and watch it here.) With “Ain’t Talking ’bout Love” released ahead of the album, along with “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher,” I was worried that we had already heard the juiciest covers from the album, but the rest of the songs do not disappoint.
Why would the jazz-based electro-pop duo choose Van Halen for their latest tribute? Well, they already made a shout-out to David Lee Roth in their song “Diamond Dave,” from their 2009 album Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future album. They bring it back here, covering their own song to round out their tribute album. Plus, it helps that The Bird and the Bee, of Los Angeles, are practically neighbors of Van Halen, originally from Pasadena.
Since the cover-ers and the cover-ees come from very different musical genres, the pairing is a compelling one. Replacing Van Halen’s heavy electric guitar with a mixture of synths and more traditional piano, and changing the original vocal style from gravelly rock, to a smoother and sultry jazz vibe, The Bird and the Bee create another instant classic tribute album.
VH/B&B fans will all have their own favorites from the album; here are some of mine…
The second single from Van Halen’s debut album, “Runnin’ with the Devil” features steady percussion and a simple yet distinctive electric guitar line. The opening guitar strums that build suspense and drama are replaced with an electronic beat you might hear in a club, but when the piano kicks in, blended with Inara George’s vocals, the song takes on a jazz club vibe. The original song’s electric guitar solo becomes an opportunity for Greg Kurstin to show off his melodic and precise pianist skills.
A Van Halen tribute album wouldn’t be complete without “Jump,” their most prominent single, once a proud holder of the top spot on the US Billboard Hot 100. The Bird and The Bee take advantage of the synthesizer in other songs on the album, but using them in this opening would be too on the nose. Instead, they use acapella style voices to highlight the opening lines. The synthesizer comes back in the middle of the song, though, reminiscent of old-school arcade games. This version of the song is destined to be featured in the ending of a movie, Bend it Like Beckham meets The Breakfast Club.
The Bird and the Bee get a bit meta, covering Van Halen’s cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” The regimented beat of the original’s guitar is replaced by a simpler metronomic beat. Even though the beginning features some finger-twisting glissandos on the piano, the vocals are the real star of this song. Despite a simple and smooth delivery, there is a slight implied edge that harkens back to Van Halen’s interpretation of the song.
My only critique of this album concerns omissions. Any Van Hagar fans will be disappointed; the song choice for this tribute album draws exclusively from the David Lee Roth years. Also, eight of the nine Van Halen songs come from just two of their albums, while the Hall and Oates tribute album spanned a wider career range (although to be fair, H&O had more hits to choose from). I think “Right Now” would have been a crowd-pleaser and fit in well with the rest of the songs.
Overall, though, this album lives up to the anticipation held by The Bird and the Bee fans everywhere. I’m already ready for Volume 3.
Interpreting the Masters, Volume 2: (A Tribute to Van Halen) Tracklist
- Runnin’ with the Devil
- Hot for Teacher
- Ain’t Talking ‘bout Love
- Jamie’s Cryin’
- You Really Got Me
- Diamond Dave