How exactly do you review a covers album? For a critic, the goalposts are shifted, one has to consider value added, or rather, what an artist has bought to a track that otherwise wasn’t there. There’s perhaps a reason it’s not a venture many established artists undertake; making your mark on another artist’s piece without trampling all over it is a delicate practice.
Sing Into My Mouth is a collaborative effort, with Iron & Wine, the moniker of singer-songwriter Sam Beam, sharing instrumental and vocal responsibilities with Ben Bridwell, of Band Of Horses fame.
The opening track, from which the album takes its title, is by far the most ambitious and accomplished. The original version of This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody), as performed by Talking Heads, is an enchanting piece of new wave funk delivered with typical caprice. Beam’s rendition supplants funk for twanging folk, and Byrne’s lyrical caprice for his own softer approach. It’s a fairly straightedge cover that nonetheless succeeds in shedding a new – equally charming – light on the original.
Unfortunately, and perhaps typically of most cover albums, Sing Into My Mouth is a record of punctuated highlights, rather than consistent quality. Despite the angelic whimsy of his work with Band Of Horses, Bridwell brings an unexpected but welcome firmness to John Cale’s You Know More Than I Know. Closing track, Coyote, My Little Brother provides the third and final highlight, as Beam unearths an 80s folk gem courtesy of Pete Seeger, dusting it off and delivering it with warm sincerity.
Ultimately Sing Into My Mouth falls flat immediately following a charming opening track. This being said, Beam and Bridwell should be commended for their collation of an intriguing set of album tracks, B-sides and underappreciated singles. Nonetheless, barring the aforementioned highlights, they fail to inject any real character into their covers, instead providing “safe” and somewhat lacklustre renderings that fail to shed new light on the originals.