Covers can be amazing. At their best, they frame a song in a new way that can completely change its meaning. As long as an artist is internalizing the song and making it their own, it’s a cool thing. Not everyone will like every version of a song, but that’s the beauty of it, really. The song introduces
itself to you in new ways.
One of my favorite covers of all
time is Madeleine Peyroux’s version
of Elliott Smith’s “Between the Bars” (from Either/Or, which is a thoroughly great album, btw). The original has
been at the top of my “Most Romantic Songs in the World” list for around 100 years, despite the fact that what it’s really about is incredibly dark. It’s a simple, honest, and sadly / weirdly romantic account of trying to resist the pull of alcoholism. I just think of it as being about actual romantic love, because let’s face it: love can be pretty fucking similar to alcoholism. I didn’t even realize that until I knew what this song was really about. You may disagree, but if you listen to the different versions in both contexts, I think you’ll find that the two seemingly disparate subjects are strangely interchangeable.
Jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux really turns this song into a starry-eyed, languid, dreamy thing that is kind of more true to what I’ve always wanted the song to be. Her sultry, meandering rendition is still somber, but this version seems less conflicted, less tragic and fragile, less accusatory. It’s healthier, somehow. The point of view is softer, while the musical approach is richer. She changes the entire song. Plus, her voice is absolutely incredible.
You can find this song on Careless Love.
Both versions of the song are always side-by-side in any playlist I add them to: I can’t hear one without wanting to hear the other.