Sibling harmonies to “make an old song new”.
After the wide acclaim for two releases of their own material bathed in warm harmonies blending folk, bluegrass and Appalachia, why would the Brother Brothers, of all people, want to do a record of covers? Relax, this is as carefully created a work as their own songs as twins Adam and David Moss apply all of the above to a very personal collection of songs. Their perfect sibling harmonies are most compared to the Everly Brothers, also the Milk Carton Kids or the Secret Sisters.
The Brother Brothers have put their own stamp on this diverse range of songs, “we want to make an old song new” they say, while giving it the “ultimate respect it deserves”. And on both scores they succeed. This project was conceived during the pandemic when holed up in isolation they asked themselves bluntly why they were doing this and what they had achieved. From their soul-searching emerged songs that had been with them since they sang their first notes.
‘Cover To Cover’ is a tribute but not a random collection of songs. Though all are favourites, in each one the brothers identify with a connection of some sort. An early discovery that stayed with them is opener, Tom T. Hall’s ‘That’s How I Got to Memphis’, its gentle, almost jazz, tempo is the ideal backdrop to pure Everly harmonising. Another song a friend put them onto some time ago is Judee Sill’s ‘There’s A Rugged Road’. Honouring this very underrated songwriter, they successfully recreate in their own singer/songwriter way the song’s 1970s vibe.
Well known names feature. ‘These Days’ sounds even more west coast than Jackson Browne’s original. James Taylor’s catalogue must have offered many candidates but the brothers not only add a lovely sheen to ‘You Can Close Your Eyes’ but Sarah Jarosz’s participation adds a completely new dimension. Other collaborations come from Lake Street Dive vocalist Rachael Price and her sister Emily, on ‘I Get Along Very Well Without You (Except Sometimes)’, background jazz crooning adds to this Hoagy Carmichael classic.
From the Great American Songbook to americana and a reminder of time spent in Austin, the brothers do solid justice to Robert Earl Keen’s ‘Feelin’ Good Again’, fiddle and banjo picking maintaining a lively pace. More country pop from the excellent ‘Trio II’ album by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt comes Harley Allen’s ’High Sierra’ featuring Michaela Anne. ‘Blue Virginia Blues’ so suits the Brother Brothers bluegrass.
If not quite as sombre as its originator Tom Waits, ‘Flower’s Grave’ has the brothers turning their harmonies to a rich pathos. Choosing a standout from such an eclectic selection is hard but if forced this writer would go for Richard Thompson’s ‘Waltzing’s For Dreamers’. “One step’s for sighing, two steps for crying/ Waltzing’s for dreamers and losers in love” sounds as heartbreaking in a light harmony as it does in Thompson’s baritone.
A further step to understanding why an album of covers is that the brothers describe themselves as “music scholars”. Each holding a degree in music is the evidence but listen to how they approach the songs and you will hear a more immediate application of that title. Their continual exploration and learning applied to each song should please both newcomers and those who have grown up with the original.