Kate Walsh – Undercover (EP) (2010)

Kate Walsh has joined the Pledge Music movement – we, the fans, pay varying amounts for different packages of material, and the artist send signed copies, downloads, or does wedding appearances (yours for 2k!) to pay for studio time. As part of this, Walsh has recorded the second in a series of covers EPs, this time, focusing on the 90s.

It opens with Blur’s ‘Beetlebum’, a very ‘Eleanor Rigby’-ish reading of a pretty tense, heavy tune; the effect is unsettling, initially, but the arrangement brings out a mournfulness to the tune, as opposed to the angsty original. The cellos are the most Beatles-ish moment, but they work beautifully, if a little too George Martin just before the chorus – still, when the source material is this good, and the cover is a proper re-working, it’s all to the good. Finishing with a sunnier outlook, drums and (probably) Tim (of the House) in the background, the little studio effect at the end is a nice little nod to the original.

Admission of ignorance: having never even heard of the Sundays, let alone their song ‘Monochrome’, I felt I needed to YouTube them first. Sounding quite like something you’d hear on a Kate Walsh album anyway, it struck me as somewhat of a safer song to cover – even with the slightly rockier guitars, I could hear the song underneath crying out to be covered.It doesn’t disappoint, bringing a slightly more poignant, spare feel to this song about the Moon landing, but essentially, it doesn’t strike one as much as the previous track.

The cover of ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’, one of my favourite songs from one of my favourite albums, Radiohead’s OK Computer, was most definitely a brave choice. What helps, of course, is that so far, the songs have been brilliant songs below their sonic differences, and that doesn’t change here. The pianos and cellos are reminiscient of other songs in Radiohead’s ouevre, but this works well in a fairly spare reading, violins taking the place of Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien’s guitars. The clean sound of her voice brings a very different feel to the quirky brilliance of Thom Yorke’s, and the occasional surge of the pianos suggests both classical training, and a grand connection with the dynamic undercurrents that pulse through Radiohead’s best album.

To round off the EP, there’s a cover of EMF’s ‘Unbelievable’, which is, as a song choice, far more left-field than the others. I had to check to see if it was what I thought it was, and by God, it was. Even though, on listening back, it’s a far more interesting song than the one I heard on the radio ‘back in the day’, it’s not exactly what you’d expect. Anticipation heightened, the song, predictably, took a subdued, downcast tone. Taking the other definition of the title word, it’s a resigned, depressed but defiant torch song. Frankly, it’s the most brilliant of these covers, even if, like ‘Monochrome’, it’s just voice and piano. Blur and Radiohead provided such strong songs, it would take something appalling to mess them up – here though, an electro-hip hop-rock-rap-white boys with bad baseball caps tune is turned into a powerful ballad (not a power ballad, I hasten to add) and a really affecting song.

As any great jazz player would tell you, interpretation is just as important and difficult an approach to music as original composition – here, Kate Walsh has certainly shown she’s no slouch at finding that inner core of a song, and making it her own.

7/10 (only because I now want a covers album!)

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