Covers serve an important purpose for emerging and established artists. If done well, a good cover can help emerging artists hone their craft and enable them to reach listeners that would otherwise not have peeked from underneath the cover of the mainstream fold. Bob Dylan’s first ablum included only two original songs while the rest were his interpretation of traditional folk standards, and First Aid Kit, now a viable indie presence, parlayed their cover of Fleet Foxes’s “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” into a recording deal. For estalbished artists, covers allow them to cross genres and perhaps take a break from the tempestuous process of writing music without foregoing their lifeblood, both philosophically and in actuality ($$). The artist that immediately springs to mind here is Cat Power, whose release of her celebrated The Covers Record seems to have come at a time when she was going through some “Ish.”
The best part about a cover is the opportunity it presents for artists to transcribe their unique sound onto a track that was not originally their own, allowing them to find commonalities while highlighting their own viewpoint. In deciding what to synthesize out of and into a cover, artists tip their hats as to what they believe are their strengths. Similar to the way a person highlights their best physical feature with an outfit, an artist can show you where they want to go, what they want to be, and what their current best is–all in a cover song. This is why I am a Cover Lover.
On offer for you today is Ryan Lerman’s cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”. Ryan Lerman is a Los Angeles singer-songwriter who has the look and the sound to be making waves on the “young Hollywood” scene. As a graduate of USC’s Thornton School of Music, a former session musician for the likes of Joshua Radin and A Fine Frenzy, and a recent tour companion of the inimitable John Legend, he also has the pedigree to prove his worth. I love that he chose to cover one of Adele’s most popular tracks on his 2012 album Pinstripes, The Sky for many reasons. To delve into them all here would be to make this post an unreadable bore, but chief among my reasoning is the disparity between the vocal abilities of Lerman and Adele. One is not better than the other, they’re just different.
In another life, Adele may have been an opera diva shattering glassware and endearing herself to the upper crust with the power of her immeasurable gift. By contrast, the timbre of Lerman’s voice is soothing, it is ripe with the well-learned cadences of jazz, it whiffs of the refined yet blue collar. Due to these differences, Lerman was forced to reframe the song in his own likeness–seen in the guitar riffs that accompany the track’s opening seconds, and also when he vocally doubles back at 0:39 in the cover. However, he chose to leave the song’s distinct identity intact and in doing so builds a bridge between both artists as the ghost of Adele is unhidden and ever present. Since he doesn’t hide Adele in his version of her song (or rather, the song that was written for her by Paul Epworth), the listener is able to better appreciate Lerman’s presence within it. This is an artistically bold choice that paid off for him, and speaks well of his musical intuition. This is Ryan Lerman learning at his best.
At the beginning of this post you’ll find Lerman’s version of “Rolling in the Deep”, and I encourage you to compare it with Adele’s video of the same (found below). As an added bonus, I’ve thrown in a few more Lerman tracks from the same 2012 album: his cover of Elliott Smith’s “Between the Bars”–perhaps one of my favorite artists/songs of all time–and another of his own composition, “Your Own Advice”. Enjoy!