Tortoise & Bonnie “Prince” Billy | The Brave And The Bold (Overcoat Recs)

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As I listened to The Brave and the Bold, a collaboration between Tortoise and Bonnie “Prince” Billy,  for the first time, the most important detail about the record slipped my mind. Without a tracklist as reference, I found myself listening to the album’s second song and thinking, “Fuck, these guys are really biting the Boss! What gives?” It took my oblivious self more than a week to realize The Brave and the Bold is an album consisting entirely of cover songs and the second track is, in fact, “Thunder Road” from Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 landmark Born to Run.

What my careless mistake illuminated, however, was a quality that sets this collaborative effort apart from other kitschy covers records: the musicians’ ability to transform these songs into their own distinct creations while cleverly bottling up the spirit of the originals deep within each track’s core.

Originating as the product of an informal e-mail exchange, The Brave and the Bold planted its roots after Bonnie “Prince” Billy frontman Will Oldham began pursuing Tortoise to accompany him on a recorded version of “Thunder Road,” which had become a staple of the musician’s live show and acts as the focal point of this collection of songs. The collaborators, familiar with each other beforehand but working together professionally for the first time, spent several days in 2004 recording four cover songs and eventually expanded the recording session to fill an entire album.

Oldham, with his pinched-but-smooth croon of a folk troubadour, and Tortoise, with their love for a tremendous variety of music styles, take command of The Brave and the Bold and provide the tracks with a unique flavor, centered around Oldham’s rich vocals, that instantly conjures some of the most tender moments from Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s cult classic I See a Darkness.

Apart from “Thunder Road,” with its triumphant choruses that blare with a synthetic shimmer and its truthful verses that calm to emphasize the meandering lyrical phrasing, The Brave and the Bold taps rather obscure songs for its muse. The Minutemen’s “It’s Expected I’m Gone” transforms D. Boon’s sloppy, stripped-down guitar solo to a spacey, noise-infused freak-out, and Devo’s “That’s Pep!” plays as Casio funk with channel-jumping guitars and a lo-fi drum loop. But along with the Boss’ track, only Elton John’s “Daniel”—reworked into muffled glitch-pop—can truly be considered cover fodder out of these ten tracks.

In choosing more obscure material, such as Milton Nascimento’s “Cravo É Canela,” on which Oldham sings in Portuguese, and Melanie’s “Some Say (I Got Devil),” on which Oldham sings as a woman, or even Quix*o*tic’s “On My Own,” the collaboration garners its success by escaping the trap of the covers sounding so recognizable—whether it be from the popularity of the song or the cover’s resemblance of the original—that they lose the effect and purpose of the reinvention.

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