Just in time for Valentine's Day comes Sweetheart 2014, a collection of indelible, handpicked covers from a remarkable group of modern musical dreamers who artfully grapple, in one way or another, with that most vexing of subject to ever befall mankind, L.O.V.E. Sweetheart 2014 (Hear Music/Concord Music Group) will be available on CD exclusively at Starbucks and all digital outlets beginning February 4th, 2014.
The fifth in a series created exclusively for Starbucks, Sweethearts 2014 features 13 all-new recordings by Jim James, Vampire Weekend, Fiona Apple, Phosphorescent, Brandi Carlile, Beck, The Head and the Heart, Ben Harper, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Valerie June, Blake Mills, Bahamas and Thao & The Get Down Stay Down. The eclectic performances also serve as a love letter to the essential songwriters covered here. Jim James' soulful turn on Bob Marley's "Turn Your Lights Down Low," Beck's mournful version of John Lennon's "Love," Phosphorescent's luminous cover of Bob Dylan's "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" and Vampire Weekend's superlative interpretation of "Time to Say Goodbye [Con te partirò]" made famous by Andrew Bocelli, are just a few examples.
The absorbing performances include Bahamas' meditative version of Willie Nelson's "Always on My Mind," Thao & the Get Down Stay Down's cover of Ray Charles' "If You Were Mine," Ben Harper's intense translation of Mazzy Star's "Fade into You," Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings' rave up of Stevie Wonder's classic "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours," Brandi Carlile's paean to Fleetwood Mac with "The Chain," Blake Mills' singular stamp on Bobby Charles and Stanley Lewis's "I Hope," The Head and the Heart's adaptation of Harry Nilsson's "Don't Forget Me" and Valerie June doing the Carter Family proud on "Happy or Lonesome". And, speaking of curatorial surprises, Fiona Apple and her sister, cabaret singer Maude Maggart's highly original rendering of Anton Karas' "I'm in the Middle of a Riddle," a song from the landmark soundtrack to 1949's "The Third Man."
Its clear each performer brought something very personal to this project. "I chose this song from Nilsson "Don't Forget Me" because I had recently lost touch with a very important person in my life," confides Head and the Heart singer Josiah Johnson, its swelling strings bringing to mind the music of a bygone time.
Phosphorescent mastermind, Alabama native Matthew Houk, reflected on Dylan's "Tomorrow Is a Long Time", "It's one of the most longing songs I've ever heard. It's special that such a slight thing can carry so much emotion in just a few lines and chords." Houk's haunting version leaves a similarly wistful impression.
Ben Harper says of his minimalist piano reworking of Mazzy Star's alt-rock classic "Fade Into You," "My friend Jason Yates played piano on the original, so I always listened to that part closely. It's one of my favorite songs and I've wanted to cover it forever."
The charming Anton Karas waltz "I'm in the Middle of a Riddle" is another one of Sweetheart's gems. Fiona Apple and Maude Maggart's sibling harmonies transport the listener back in time. Karas, who became a sensation thanks to his massive mid-century "The Third Man Theme," was a zitherist and the reverberating, melancholy sound of the zither can also be heard in this duo's tribute.
Vampire Weekend's version of "Time to Say Goodbye (Con te partirò)," made famous by the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, is another grand eccentricity. Calling it "one of the greatest love songs of all time," frontman Ezra Koenig attests, "Its beauty transcends language." Vampire Weekend transform the "poperatic" mega-hit with a deft, old school electronic rhythm and ultra-romantic Italian vocals.
For his part, Jim James is unequivocal about the meaning of Bob Marley's "Turn Your Lights Down Low," stating simply, "This song is the sound of love." He makes it his own with the signature resonance Rolling Stone once described as "echo-drenched spirituality." Beck, meanwhile, sings and plays guitar, bass, drums and particularly affecting piano on the Plastic Ono Band-era Lennon classic "Love." The outing recalls Beck's own Sea Change.
It's Valerie June, however, who may have the last word on love. The Memphis-born folk/blues/soul performer lends her supernatural presence to a rendition of the Carter Family's 1934 classic "Happy or Lonesome." "In every moment of true love, there are moments of parting," she says. "The story of this song is sweetness and hopefulness even though we can't hold on to those we love forever. Wild hearts must run free. But nothing of loving is ever lost - it only changes form." It's the perfect distillation of Sweetheart 2014's many splendored charms.