“Word on a Wing,” off Station to Station, is perhaps David Bowie‘s most explicitly religious song, born out of a drug-fueled spiritual crisis while he was making a science fiction movie. This result is an elaborate ballad with one of Bowie’s more impassioned lead vocals.
We last encountered British-Canadian singer-songwriter Dana Gavanski with her cover of a Tim Hardin deep cut. With her cover of “Word on a Wing,” she’s once again showing a willingness to dig deep in the discographies of the great singer-songwriters of the past, rather than just covering the hits.
Gavanski’s begins as utterly distinct from Bowie’s; the elaborate, nearly-orchestral arrangement from the first verse. (Bowie’s original has eight musicians on it.) It’s replaced by guitar, bass and drums for the first verse and chorus. It’s only in the second verse that the arrangement expands to what you might expect from the song, with keyboards and a deep male voice popping up briefly in the mix. She double-tracks her voice, to give it more fullness. Bowie is one of the great singers of his era and trying to take on one of his more bravura vocal parts must be daunting. So she fiddles with the enunciation, and moves away from the outright passion to something a little more calm and quirky.
The result is a cover that surprises – going from a sound very distinct from the original in its first verse to something like an indie folk version of the original in the second. It’s a neat take on one of Bowie’s under-known great songs.