Ben Bridwell of Band Of Horses and Sam Beam of Iron & Wine do not only share a reputation as two of the most consistent composers of modern Americana, but also share an enduring friendship. Forged over 15 years ago, the two men would send each other newfound cassettes and CDs, supporting each other’s budding interest in music, and eventually their respective bourgeoning careers. It’s not surprising then, that the two artists have finally come together professionally. Instead of creating an album grounded by the common denominator of strong, original American songcraft, however, the pair’s first collaborative effort is a collection of covers titled Sing Into My Mouth. These covers range from Talking Heads and Sade, to Pete Seeger and J.J. Cale – some of which are expected, and others much more surprising, but all have influenced the pair’s own music making to some extent. What follows is an album that reads like an intimate jam session; at which Bridwell and Beam’s musical predilections and idiosyncrasies are so well matched their personal relationship is palpable.
Opening with This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody), Bridwell and Beam transform the distinct funk rock of Talking Heads into a contented, Southern patio lilt. The otherworldly impassivity of David Byrne’s original delivery is replaced with comforting and tender warmth, as raw vocal harmonies demonstrate the perfect accord of their vocal tones. Originally composed by American singer-songwriter Paul Siebel, the men take on Bonnie Raitt’s version of Any Day Woman. While Raitt somehow offered a sympathetic and experiential wisdom, Bridwell and Beam add a weeping pedal steel and aching resignation. Sing Into My Mouth also features covers more faithful to their originals, including Ronnie Lane’s Done This One Before and John Cale’s You Know Me More Than I Know.
Two of the more surprising additions to the album include Sade’s 90s R&B ballad Bulletproof Soul, and the more obscure God Knows (You Gotta Give To Get) by Swedish indie pop songstress El Perro del Mar. In Bulletproof Soul, Bridwell and Beam abandon the saxophone-driven groove of the original, defined by its soothing sparse accompaniment and hypnotic percussion. While its intermittent vocal harmonies are striking, it falls flat as a whole – producing moody folk that feels lost. Their similar take on El Perro del Mar’s God Knows (You Gotta Give To Get), only amplifies the dullness of the original melody. The track’s only redeeming features, its rhythmic drive and the purity of child-like sadness, are abandoned and the cover version becomes bogged-down in one-dimensional melancholy.
Their textural take on J.J. Cale’s Magnolia, however, adds a heated, mournful nostalgia to the song. Echoing, layered vocals and punctuating horns mirror dichotomous feeling of confusing grief and tender reminiscence. The album’s closing track Coyote, My Little Brother then somehow transforms Pete Seeger’s delicate yodelling and bare accompaniment into mesmerising, atmospheric, almost psychedelic rock.
Despite a couple of questionable and unsatisfying covers, whose reworking only proves the limited potential (as in God Knows) or the exactness of its original success (as with Bulletproof), Sing Into My Mouth is a pleasant journey that embodies the pair’s personal and creative cohesion.