Look What the Fans Drug In:
A Tribute to the music of Michael Penn
MR. HOLLYWOOD JR., 1947:
"And this was the Year That Was, 1947."
This wonderful, refreshingly clear,
straightforward power pop record takes its theme from the year in the album
title. Lots happened that year. The GI's returned to civilian life from WWII,
the CIA was formed, the Blacklist began, as did the Cold War, the transistor
was invented, and Chuck Yeager broke the speed of sound. But all of that is
merely the backdrop for songs about relationships, some romantic, some not.
The covers of the songs on Mr. Hollywood Jr. are tremendous. The Breakups version of "Mary Lynn" plays up the power pop, as well as the psychedelic accents. The backwards, treated guitar is wonderful, as are the drums crashing in the back ground. Plasticsouls's cover of "You know How," goes for a classic feel, something that could have been recorded for a 60s LP. Buzzy guitar provides nice textures, as do rattling drums. On both of these songs, the Penn like qualities of the vocals, in the sense of sharp, precise singing, are as much a tribute to Penn, as the songs themselves.
Andrea Zils' version of "O.K"
takes on new meaning when a woman sings it, the emotions of the song are
accentuated, and like Penn, with a light touch, which also goes for the piano
playing, it's just the right amount of music. Zils has this to say about the
song. "This song holds a lot of meaning for me. When I was listening to
MHJ 1947, I was going through a very serious post-partum depression. It
was a dark period in my life. I felt that my life was over and I'd never
get better. Listening to O.K. made me feel understood, even though not all the
lyrics applied to my situation. Depression is very isolating; you feel all
alone even when you have a great support system. O.K. helped me realize
that I'm not the first person to feel such pessimism and despair. And
Spencer Bayles take on "Denton Road" is this, "it's an utterly beautiful, instantly classic
Bayles, who plays a quiet guitar,
keyboards and other instruments quietly, and David Thake, on shaker and others,
do exactly what they mean to, stripping the song down to its core, highlighting
its calm power.
Grant Prusi's comments about "The Television Set Waltz" are, "I've always been interested in history. One of my favorite time periods from 1920-1960. I thought that it would be logical for me to do this track since it's from that time period."
Prusi has done exactly that with his cover. The song sounds like it could have been recorded in 1947, on the equipment that was around at the time, complete with pops and crackles in the background. It is just him at the piano, and you could waltz to it as much as Penn's version. It has a memorable melody, and in it's own understated way, as grand as the Penn original.
To close out our ambitious, sometimes messy collection of cover versions is Tom Loiacono's "Millionaire". He comments that "when I think of a Michael Penn song, I usually think of a richly layered, complexly orchestrated, masterfully arranged piece of music. These songs grab hold of you and don't let you go. In stark contrast to his more elaborately textured songs, "(P.S.) Millionaire" strikes you with its sheer simplicity, like someone whispering at a podium: you are compelled to stop and listen because they must be saying something of importance. The song is understated, yet the impression it leaves you with is one of quiet desperation. This is what drew me into this song – it's so different in its arrangement compared to his regular fare, but it's equally captivating. It's a postscript to an album already brimming with meaning and emotion that you wonder what he could have left out to necessitate a "P.S". But when you listen to Michael Penn's "Millionaire", you'll know."
-- Andrea Weiss
COVER ALBUM CREDITS:
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