I love covers. Have I said that before? It’s always a bit of a thrill when I find some beloved song masterfully covered by another artist. (See my post regarding Feist’s transcendant cover of Secret Heart.) What I also love are the emotional inflections each cover artist brings to a song. For example, eighteen renditions of Wild Horses reside on my iPod. Only 2 of them are by the Rolling Stones, while my favourite is soaringly sung the effervescently voiced The Sundays followed, perhaps, by the most intriguing Tori Amos, and Dave Matthews’ gravelly sweet presence comes in a close third. So, when I logged into crackbook this morning to discover one of my friends had posted Johnny Cash covering If Ever I Saw Your Face I thought, hmmmmmm…
I wasn’t disappointed. I don’t love his rendition, but, oh my, the man has gravitas, with that world-weary, lingeringly liquor-soaked voice wrenching pathos and longing from a song I recall from my youth as Roberta Flack’s soaringly soulful paean to love at first sight. The quality of the voices, the disparate age and culture and the difference between a life looking hopefully forward matched to another taking a long, thoughtful look back, these all combine to create startlingly different emotional connections to the song, and inflect different meanings on the words.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe I should just let the music stand on its own.
Nah. It’s fascinating.
Even more fascinating is that this song was written by folk singer Ewan MacColl for Peggy Seeger (Pete Seeger’s half-sister). According to Wikipedia, Flack’s rendition is over twice as long as MacColl’s original. Moreover:
I wonder what he would’ve thought of Cash’s cover?
Just for comparison, here’s Peggy Seever, performing the song MacColl wrote (and sanctioned) exclusively for her. It’s very different!