Hazeldine’s covers reveal wide-ranging taste unfettered by tiresome concern with hipness. It’s as if they heard others’ songs differently in the first place. For example, How Bees Fly, the group’s 1997 release on German label Glitterhouse, included Grant Lee Buffalo’s “Fuzzy”; in Hazeldine’s hands, the song’s plaintive cry of confusion is rendered more convincing for the stoner pace and stripped-down instrumentation. On Orphans, a disc of ten covers clocking in at 25 minutes, Hazeldine sheds new light on songs they love by artists ranging from Trixie Smith and Gram Parsons to Peter Gabriel and Radiohead.
The dreamy, and sometimes creepy, pace of Hazeldine’s music permits Shawn Barton to invest a cover with more meaning and often more feeling than you remember in the original. At such slow tempos, Barton can exploit her vocal versatility to explore nuances in a lyric. The effect is enhanced by her intimacy with the mike. She can make you feel the crash of cannon fire in the traditional “Whiskey In The Jar”, or the raindrops tapping in the street in “April 8th” by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel. In her tanglewood harmony with Tonya Lamm, you are within the wee chamber of Gabriel’s “Cuckoo Cocoon”, hearing the echo of your own internal dialog.
Hank Cochran’s “It’s Only Love” and Radiohead’s “Lucky” come perilously close to dragging, but are redeemed somewhat by the opportunity to reflect between syllables. Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse provided Hazeldine an eerie counterpoint to Orphans’ pop and country tracks with “Heart Of Darkness.” As on “April 8th”, Hazeldine sets the song in an Ann Rice novel, with broad hints of dark-hearted sensuality.
Harmony is the “house of Hazeldine,” and in their liner notes they credit Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris for its foundation. Hazeldine’s version of Parsons’ “A Song For You” trembles and shakes you with its sweet pain until every wracked memory is loose.
Noteworthy on this outing is the band’s improved musicianship augmented by tasty percussion and guitar contributions by the Silos’ Walter Salas-Hamara. Overall, fans awaiting Hazeldine’s Polygram debut, due out in early 1999, should find Orphans a satisfying appetizer, for now.