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Indie Soul

Various Artists - This Bird Has Flown:
A 40th Annivesary Tribute to The Beatles' Rubber Soul

(Razor & Tie)
3 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Nov. 22, 2005
This Bird Has Flown

Review by Tony Bonyata

It's no surprise that The Beatles are the most covered band in the history of rock music. Despite only releasing thirteen albums (albeit within just seven short years) the Fab Four crafted some of the most indelible songs in pop. But with their music being covered throughout the last four decades by artists of every ilk - from blues, country, jazz, heavy metal and, god forbid, elevator muzak - is it really necessary to cart out yet another album full of Beatles cover versions?
As far as trying to better the originals, the answer is no - it's a fruitless endeavor. Knowing this, the NYC-based Razor & Tie label has instead gathered together some of the most influential indie artists today to give their own unique impressions on songs, in the same running order (from the original U.K. release, that is), from just one Beatles album - the brilliant Rubber Soul. Celebrating the 40th anniversary of this monumental album (originally released in December 1965 which subsequently shot up to the number one positions in both the U.S. and U.K. charts) This Bird Has Flown is a brave undertaking in both its singular scope of subject matter (one album) and, despite these artists all being labeled "indie," broad vision of varying musical styles.
The album starts off respectfully enough with The Donnas' take on "Drive My Car," which, despite sounding a little too close to the original production, lacks the urgency and pent-up energy of The Beatles' version (which is somewhat surprising for these four chicks known for blending the aggressiveness of both punk and metal together).  There are also other numbers that stay faithful to the originals, such as Dar Williams' delicious take on "You Won't See Me" and Ben Kweller's "Wait."
But what really makes this collection interesting is when these modern artists spread their wings and take off with their own unique versions. Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals turn Paul McCartney's "Michelle" into a tranquilized reggae number, while Low delivers a sparse and beautifully haunting version of "Nowhere Man." Nellie McKay drastically alters the jangley pop of George Harrison's "If I Needed Someone" into a smoky, avant-garde jazz number, and while the vocalist from Yonder Mountain String Band mirrors that of Harrison on "Think For Yourself," the addition of  earthy strings, such as banjo, acoustic guitar and mandolin, turns this number into shotgun-wedded bluegrass-pop. There is probably no other song on this album, however, that is so 'out there' you just can't help but either love it or hate it. On The Fiery Furnaces' strange organ-fueled take of John Lennon's "Norwegian Wood," the brother and sister duo of Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger add an otherworldliness to the number while at the same time fueling the lyrics with a Dylan-esque delivery (who was surely the original inspiration for this psychedelic folk number).
While nobody will ever surpass The Beatles' brilliance on their own numbers, every once in while, as This Bird Has Flown proves, it's still  fun to hear their songs revisited with fresh voices and new ideas.

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