Covering someone else’s song isn’t necessarily an achievement. If it’s done consistently, it becomes either a pale excuse for a lack of original material, or a fallback position to keep an audience satisfied while biding time until one’s muse returns. On the other hand, taking a well-known tune and interpreting it in a way that’s original and unexpected can become a feat in itself, and indeed, a sign of skill and savvy.
The Goodfellers seem to get that, and on their excellent new album, Love Somebody, this highly praised ensemble pursues that tack with skill, passion, and polish. It boasts eight well-chosen covers from pop and rock music, and while some find a clear connection to bluegrass — Peter Rowan’s Last Train and David Grisman’s E.M.D. being two of the more obvious examples — other offerings may at first seem somewhat unexpected. Their remarkable version of the Bee Gees To Love Somebody — which, not surprisingly, debuted at #1 our own Bluegrass Today Grassicana chart — is a perfect example, a melding of a beautiful melody, sincere sentiment, and an articulate arrangement courtesy of its massed mandolins. The result plies the basics of bluegrass while conveying an innate organic appeal. More surprising still is the band’s take on U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name, shared here with the passionate determination of the original, and steady banjo picking for additional emphasis.
That’s not to say that the music deters from its essential origins. Songs such as Get In the Wind, Somebody Loves You, Darling, and I Know Where Love Lives (featuring John Cowan and Pat Flynn on backing vocals) provide an ideal mesh of tone and technique, even while emphasizing an accessibility factor to an even greater degree.
Ultimately, this is quite the skillful bunch. Lead singer Teddy Barneycastle has an engaging presence that brings each song into full focus. Guitarist Kyser George, vocalist, bassist and reso-guitar player David George, singer and mandolin player Ralph McGee, banjo player Tommy “Moss” Morse, and guest banjo pickers Hersie McMillian and Rex McGree, each make an emphatic contribution of their own.
It’s a team effort to be sure, one that creates a perfect formula all round. Taken in tandem, Love Somebody reflects the endearing sentiments its title implies.