“Never for money; always for love.”
That’s a line from Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”, which also opens the new album of covers from Iron and Wine (aka Sam Beam) and Ben Bridwell (frontman for Band of Horses), Sing Into My Mouth. With a couple of beer bottles clinking on the album artwork, that lyric makes for a fitting mantra on a record that finds its inspiration in the two singers’ long-standing friendship, which goes back over 15 years to when the budding musicians would send each other CDs and cassettes.
This also means that Sing Into My Mouth falls into vanity project territory, as the two artists chose bands and singers as varied as Talking Heads and Bonnie Raitt, as well as lesser-known cuts like Them Two’s “Am I a Good Man?” and El Perro del Mar’s “God Knows (You Gotta Give to Get)”. When the two performed on Letterman, their effortless chemistry and vocal harmonies shone, just as they do on the album.
While it has a sweet backstory of pen pals-turned-collaborators, the record ultimately boils down to a solid, if unremarkable, collection of twangy takes on its varied source material. In some instances, this results in near-carbon copies (Ronnie Laine’s “Done This One Before”, John Cale’s “You Know More Than I Know”, Unicorn’s “There’s No Way Out of Here”, Marshall Tucker Band’s “Ab’s Song”). But the album makes its most interesting moves when it diverges from its inspirations.
Gone are the new wave synths on “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”, whose warmth is matched by Beam’s and Bridewell’s intertwining voices and the gentle strumming of the acoustic guitar. Gone is the R&B groove in Sade’s “Bulletproof Soul”, replaced by a slow drum beat, a measured bass line, and intermittent piano. Gone are the effervescent vocals of El Perro del Mar’s “God Knows (You Gotta Give to Get)”, which gives way to a moody, down-tempo take. “Magnolia” takes a page out of the Bon Iver playbook, adding feverish, echoey vocals and mournful horns in the background — both interesting textural additions to JJ Cale’s simple, original version.
For diehard Iron and Wine or Band of Horses fans, Sing Into My Mouth will make a pleasant supplemental entry into their collections, but for everyone else, it seems to be a record much more fulfilling for its creators than for listeners.
Essential Tracks: “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”, “Magnolia”