Shovels & Rope
“Bad As Me”
Covering Tom Waits is a bad idea (ask Scarlett Johansson), but Carolina duo Shovels & Rope get it right. I wrote about Shovels & Rope recently, when I talked about the music of one of my favorite shows, Rectify, and have been taking in their new album Swimming Time lately, but unfortunately haven’t been able to give it enough listens in time for a review (I usually try to listen to something at least five times before discussing it). However, I wanted to cover the rising duo somehow, and having crept back into their catalog, I discovered their two-sided covers single they released for Jack White’s Third Man Records of Bruce Springsteen’s rockabilly “Johnny 99” and Tom Waits’ diabolical “Bad As Me”. While I love their relentless version of “Johnny 99”, their cover as “Bad As Me” is the 2nd best cover I have heard all year – next to the Bryan Ferry-sung cover of Robert Palmer’s “Johnny and Mary” Todd Terje put out this year – and deserving of a write-up.
The first time you hear the husband and wife duo of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, it makes complete sense they would release something on Jack White’s Third Man Records. The duo takes the raucous blues punk energy of the early White Stripes, and mixes it with modern folk music, bringing a much needed edge and dirt to the otherwise good-mannered contemporary folk scene. I have yet to see the band live, but from the live footage I’ve seen of them, the stage seems to be where their wild-hearted folk music blossoms, but their records have still been strong enough to pique my interest.
When it comes to making a great cover, there are only two requirements in my mind:
1) The song keeps the spirit and message of the song. Basically it can’t miss the point.
2) Something unique needs to be brought to the table that wasn’t delivered in the original
Shovels & Rope’s take on “Bad As Me” passes both of these with flying colors. First, it’s hard to capture the spirit of Tom Wait’s songs since he is such an odd, ravaged soul, but Hearst and Trent’s stretched delivery and gritty musical bent works to keep the song’s diabolical nature in place. As for the uniqueness, the band speeds the song up, makes it a lot more punchy, and the two vocal harmonies also make this undoubtedly Shovels & Rope. They remove the junkyard dog vibe that Waits puts into the songs, and make it way more of an urgent punk tune.
I could only find the live version here, so you will have to get it on iTunes to hear the killer studio version.
So if you love fresh sounding covers and the White Stripes, you will love Shovels & Rope’s “Bad As Me”.