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Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - What the Brothers Sang (Drag City)

18 February 2013

The prolific Will Oldham has always released a handful of records of original material, but he’s always had a way with a cover, and, surprisingly, has only infrequently delved into cover record territory. What the Brothers Sang is a full-on tribute to The Everly Brothers, and he is joined with collaborator and Faun Fables lead singer Dawn McCarthy. The concept is intriguing, the song selection even more so. Eschewing the band’s most well-known songs always makes for better tribute records, and such is the case here; you may not be familiar with most of these songs, but they make you want to seek them out. Oldham and McCarthy have two voices that fit perfectly together; his voice has always had a sweetness to it, and hers has always been a little tough and raw, so it’s interesting to hear the two of them take on a group that’s known primarily for their harmonies. There are some sweet moments; the lackadaisical weepie “So Sad” is a highlight; the country picking of “Poems, Prayers And Promises” will draw you in, and even when they rock it up on “Somebody Help Me” and “Milk Train,” it’s equally enjoyable. The highlight here, though, is “Devoted to You,” perhaps the most well known song here. A hit for the brothers in 1958, it’s since become a standard. A gentle love song in its original form, Oldham and McCarthy turn it into something even more special; the male/female vocal interaction gives it a power that the original didn’t quite have. What The Brothers Sang is a beautiful record; it’s easily one of Oldham’s best, and its simple charm serves its subject quite well. But, really, what makes it work is that it makes you want to hear the originals—something I’m sure both McCarthy and Oldham ultimately wanted the listener to do. A don’t miss, this.