Indie guitar legend Marnie Stern is now able to throw herself into her own guitar work for the first time in a decade. She has a new album out. She is also working with old buddies, such as her old 8G bandmate from their days in the house band for Late Night with Seth Meyers, Fred Armisen. Stern has previously produced an excellent cover of an ‘80s rock classic and this time she and Armisen tackle a ’70s special, “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper”. It is part of a Halloween compilation in support of a good cause.
There are many ways to cover this song, and at least Five Great Ones. Initially deceptive, with a pitch and speed perfect recreation of the song’s iconic riff, it soon veers off into different territory. The purpose of the original is to deal with mortality, but in a relatively reassuring way. The very worst that can happen is that you pass, but at that point, you will be reunited with the ones that you love. o even that is not too bad.
Stern and Armisen find ways to make it seem like death can actually be unpleasant, unwelcome, and coming soon! They are also not guaranteeing that you will be reunited with those precious to you, who might not be down where they are taking you. Stern’s expert, discordant fret-tapping overlays the emollient tone of the original and provides the basis for a virtuosic solo break. Her vocals also provide more menace, although it is clear that everyone is playing a part in the Halloween holiday mood rather than providing genuine danger.
One of the other changes is that Stern and Armisen maintain a specific percussive motif much longer than the original, bringing it back after the solo. This means only one thing: More Cowbell.