Sunday, April 5, 2015

Romeo and Juliet

Well, this is revelatory.

I've got an odd relationship with Dire Straits. (Not that they know that: it's complicated, as they say.) I liked them back in the day, sometimes a lot. I listened to them for scores of hours, but mainly just the Making Movies and Brothers in Arms LPs. But time moves on, as it will, and we sorta fell away from each other—the fact that they more or less ceased to be a working band shortly after I left for college probably didn't hurt, of course.

And then I heard this Indigo Girls cover the other day. It's not exactly new—it's from their 1992 album Rites of Passages. But it's new to me and, really, isn't that the important thing? And, what's more, it caused me to look at the original song in a new light.

Mark Knopfler is many things: a good songwriter and an amazing guitarist, for instance, and a vocalist of some distinction—but passion is not one of his hallmarks as a singer. Which isn't to say he's emotionless. Far from it—his whispery vocals on the song "Brothers in Arms" conveys, as much as the ominous backing track, the underlying drama and pathos.

Which is why this cover is so effective. Amy Ray doesn't hesitate to unleash the melodrama of the lyric. And while in other hands and other contexts that could easily slip into overkill, but by not gender swapping the lyric, ala "Then He Kissed Me/Then She Kissed Me," and for obvious reasons, Ray brings a new and compelling context to the song—including lines such as "when we made love you used to cry"—that takes the exact same material and makes it even more powerful in its stripped down rendition than even the already magnificent original.

The slow fadeout on Making Movies, featuring lovely guitar work by Knopfler and restrained keyboards by the great Roy Bittan, was already fantastic. Ray's desperate and knowingly hopeless acapella vocal is even more heartbreaking.

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