CD Review of Under the Covers, Vol. 2 by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs
Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs: Under the Covers, Vol. 2
Recommended if you like
Raspberries, Todd Rundgren, Big Star
Label
Shout! Factory
Matthew Sweet and
Susanna Hoffs:
Under the Covers, Vol. 2

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

O
ne would be hard pressed to find two individuals with more established pop credentials. Susanna Hoffs, of course, was one of the prime movers in the Bangles, who, along with the Go-Go’s, broke into the boy’s club by proving that pop smarts had nothing at all to do with gender and that a hook was a hook, regardless of who happened to be serving it up. Matthew Sweet has certainly lived up to his surname, delivering more than two decades’ worth of graceful, gilded melodies that define the very essence of rock ‘n’ roll ambrosia. Either one is capable of serving up a sensational cache of hooks and harmonies on their own terms, but together, their combined commitment to retro reverence is a joy to behold, a synergy that shines with unabated and unabashed exuberance.

The duo’s first joint venture, Under the Covers, Vol. 1, demonstrated how two gifted artists, firmly committed to rejoicing in their roots, could revel in and revive a musical form that too often tends to be shrugged off as banal and insignificant by those mistaking pop for pap because somehow it lacks high-minded precepts or fails to rise to the level of heavy-handed, high-minded proselytizing. Then as now, their song choices speak volumes, and while they render them with the faithful grace that only true devotees could muster, it’s their obvious dedication to the material at hand – and particularly the artists that recorded it originally – that shines through. It makes the liner notes well worth reading, not only to discern who played what – although that’s meaningful too when you’ve coerced Steve Howe to help cover Yes’ "I’ve Seen All Good People/Your Move/Good People" medley, Lindsey Buckingham to guest on Fleetwood Mac’s "Second Hand News," and Dhani Harrison to help give reverent grace to a version of his dad’s "Beware of Darkness" – but also to appreciate how much these songs influenced Sweet and Hoffs’ individual progression as artists and champions of the form. It certainly doesn’t get more indelible than that.

Ultimately, though, it’s the subtle touches that elevate each entry. They manifest in the role-switching that finds Hoffs taking the traditional male lead in lamenting "Bell Bottom Blues," affecting the road-weary trucker in "Willin’" or replaying Rod Stewart’s raspy vocal in honoring adolescence via "Maggie May." It’s also apparent in Sweet’s gritty revival of John Lennon’s urgent and anthemic "Gimme Some Truth," and the sheer exhilaration with which he celebrates the sexual liberation that echoes through Eric Carmen’s unmistakable ode to shagging, "Go All the Way." And while most of these songs reveal themselves though a familiar opening riff, there’s also no denying the joy of rediscovery and the flood of emotion that accompanies each well-worn stanza. Anyone who doubts the resonance and resilience of timeless rock ‘n’ roll need only give a listen.

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