I love bluegrass, and I love quirky, unexpected cover songs. Smash the two together and I’m in heaven. Bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe described the genre as “Scottish bagpipes and ole-time fiddlin'. It's Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It's blues and jazz, and it has a high lonesome sound." Those aren’t words I would use to describe a lot of modern pop and rock music, but the incongruity of fiddles and distorted guitar, fat beats and down-home twang makes these bluegrass covers very endearing.
The Cleverlys are a comedy-bluegrass group that, according to the band, is made up of members of a famed tobacco growing family from rural Cane Spur, Arkansas. They’re generally awesome, and their take on Beyonce is especially so.
Iron Horse is a bluegrass band from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, that has recorded bluegrass tributes to Guns N’ Roses, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, Van Halen and, um, the Goo Goo Dolls. I especially like their take on this Metallica song, the Biblical themes of which make it a natural fit for bluegrass.
“The Way You Make Me Feel”
When you think of the “King of Pop,” you don’t think of three goofy looking (naturally) white dudes cruising around small town America in the back of a pickup truck with a standup bass, but Honeywagon makes it work.
“Blinded by Fear”
Swedish death metal filtered through bluegrass sounds less like bluegrass and a little more like something gypsy punks Gogol Bordello might come up with. Still awesome.
“I’m on Fire”
This just wouldn’t be a Matt Soniak music post without some mention of The Boss, would it? Even more so than tackling death metal with banjos, this cover really changes the whole sound of the original song. Bruce’s version is cold, desolate, minimal and tight. In the hands of Town Mountain, though, the song is full, warm, inviting and even has a little bit of swing.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Centerfold”
Hayseed Dixie goes the extra mile on both these songs, not only having fun with the Queen classic and The J. Geils Band hit, but also making great videos for them. They ape the “floating faces” shots from Queen’s video and kick up the speed on Geils and company’s original video to sync with their faster version of the tune.
“I Gotta Feeling”
Given that it’s been played at every wedding reception I have been to in the last few years (and probably every one I haven’t been too, also), I get that this song is supposed to be a feel good, barn burning party anthem. But I didn’t get it. The Black Eyed Peas version doesn’t make me feel good, it doesn’t make me want to dance, and doesn’t make me think tonight’s gonna be a good night. It has all the charisma of a dead fish. Then, the Cleverlys took a stab at it and I got it! It’s fun, it’s funny and it makes me want to fill a mason jar with Cristal and hit the town with a banjo on my knee.
“Dancing in the Dark”
And one more Bruce song. This track from Born in the USA is a favorite around here, and the boys in Greensky Bluegrass do an admirable job with it. Bonus points for the great beard on the mandolin player.