Release Date: Jun 23, 2009
Record label: The End
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative
Evan Dando tries on masks, still ends up with something realThe Lemonheads’ latest—produced by Butthole Surfer Gibby Haynes—plays like a Nick Hornby mixtape. With a little luck, this collection of mostly obscure covers could, on a smaller scale, do for Dando what the Rick Rubin-helmed American Recordings did for Johnny Cash. Varshons between Leonard Cohen and Silver Jew David Berman.
Inspirations rarely come more inspired than Gibby Haynes, the leader of the Butthole Surfers. For years, Gibby slipped Evan Dando mixtapes, and the Lemonheads leader pays tribute with Varshons, a covers album largely consisting of songs from those cassettes and produced by Haynes. At first glance this pairing might seem odd, but Gibby and Evan are both old hardcore punks with a taste for the strange.
Click here to get your copy of The Lemonheads’ ‘Varshons’ from the Rough Trade shop.
Evan Dando has delivered some brilliant covers - Mike Nesmith's Different Drum and Simon & Garfunkel's Mrs Robinson among them - so it's surprising that he has taken until now to release an album of them. On Varshons, he applies his trademark drawl and guitar twang to songs as diverse as Townes Van Zandt's Waiting Around to Die and Linda Perry's Beautiful (written for Christina Aguilera). His take on Gram Parsons's I Just Can't Take It Anymore is heartfelt; obscure psychedelicists Sam Gopal's Yesterlove and Leonard Cohen's Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye are equally haunting.
The cover song is a unique entity. Its function is to showcase interpretive skills, to pay tribute to musical peers, or to generate a sense of authenticity and awareness of musical roots. Some acts, known as cover bands, create entire identities around the songs of a known artist or a collection of recognizable hits. More voguish and reaching beyond those straightforward purposes is the ironic cover, which highlights the unexpected tastes of the interpreting act.
It’s only really once that the Evan Dando of old rears his head on Varshons, the second album to be attributed to The Lemonheads since he reactivated the name after a still-not-particularly-well-explained holiday from the moniker. Fortunately we’re not talking about the gruffly sensitive tunesmith who gave us It’s A Shame About Ray et al, but the dickhead minor celebrity who occupied the immediate post grunge era by lurching around with Courtney Love and making a tit of himself. The song is a cover of ‘Dirty Robot’ by kitsch Dutch electronic duo Arling & Cameron, and prominent on vocals is one Kate Moss.
The first three tracks on the Lemonheads' new covers album are by Gram Parsons, Wire, and G.G. Allin. You'd be hard pressed to find three more disparate rock acts, yet on Varshons they all sound like the Lemonheads-- boppy, overcast alt-rock delivered at a fast clip and sung in a whiskey tenor. Since their earliest albums, the Boston group has made covers a cornerstone of their concerts and albums, such that you could assemble a pretty wide-ranging retrospective based wholly on their treatments of songs by Suzanne Vega, Charles Manson, the Louvin Brothers, and Hair.
Evan Dando is certainly no slouch when it comes to cover versions. In fact, many of his most memorable moments over the years – especially with the on/off/on again Lemonheads – have been via other people’s songs. From the snotty-but-sincere punk-pop assault on Suzanne Vega’s “Luka,” via a warm chugging reheating of Michael Nesmith’s “Different Drum,” inside a loving restoration of Gram Parsons’ “Brass Buttons,” through the loved/hated high-octane conversion of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs.