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Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones - Homage to the Everly Brothers
on 25 November 2013
It is a tall ask to recreate an album as seminal as the Everly Brothers "Songs our Daddy Taught us" and pull it off. The Everly's album itself was a selection of songs that the brothers learned as boys from their father, Ike Everly. In 1958 it was a risk for them to roll out this set, coming on the back of their first album including the huge hits "Bye Bye Love" and "Wake up Little Susie". Nevertheless while their song selection was rootsy the versions of Appalachian standards were characterised by the trademark superb harmonies and they made the songs their own. In "Foreverly" Billie Joe Armstrong and chantreuse Norah Jones follow their template begging the question is this intended as a straightforward homage and does it add additional value? The honest answer is both. The Green Day singers pairing with Jones is unlikely but it generally works. Billie Joe Armstrong "stumbled upon" the original record a couple of years ago and became obsessed with it. His heart set on doing an Everly's tribute he brought Norah Jones on board as someone who he previously sung with at a Tsunami Benefit Concert.
Not heading for the Everly's more famous singles gives the album a more contemporary feel although with two lead vocalists vying for the mike it is rare that this new pairing actually trump any of the Don and Phil versions. It is however an enjoyable album containing a sterling version of the traditional "Roving Gambler" which Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan also covered. Likewise "Long time gone" shows that Armstrong in particular has a voice which his work in Green Day could only hint at. Sticking strictly to the Everlys format largely works because of the presence of a woman's voice giving the songs a different feel. That said when it comes to an old murder ballad like "Down in the Willow Garden" you hark back to Nick Cave's version and the greater brutality that he injected. In this sense it is the sparsity of Jones's trademark smoky vocal on "I'm here to get my baby out of jail" which actually impresses most because possibly it's the least comparable to an Everly original.
When all is said and done the versions here are respectful and well executed. For anyone approaching these tracks for the first time the wonders of the shuffling "Kentucky", the joyous raw fiddle of "Barbara Allen" and the sweet delight of "Lightning Express" await. There is little doubt that this collaboration will be compared to, what was also deemed at the time, an equally "left field" matching of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on "Raising Sand". In the last analysis the latter produced a more varied atmospheric product, but Armstrong and Jones have not let the side down and "Foreverly" marks a successful collaboration from two unlikely collaborators.
PS - This review was written before news of the sad death of Phil Everly arrived on Jan 3rd 2014. Godspeed Phil.