On the Horizon: Kris Delmhorst – Cars
by Cat Johnson
Not all of the successful bands of the 1980s made it out of the decade with their reputations intact. There were lots of one-hit-wonders, a handful of bands whose appeal was as much image as it was talent, and plenty of groups that were interesting then, but are relics of nostalgia now. And then you have the Cars.
Purveyors of super-catchy, synth-driven new wave music, the Cars and their reputation not only made it out of the ‘80s in one piece, they have cornered off a unique place in our collective musical consciousness and have continued to sell and sell and sell. They’re one of those rare bands that is appreciated by casual pop fans and hard-core record nerds alike. Perhaps it’s due to their careful merging of proto-punk and radio pop or their determination to stay focused on the music during an image-saturated era, but the more time passes the clearer it becomes that the Cars will be remembered as one of the great bands of their time.
Kris Delmhorst agrees. The celebrated singer/songwriter with numerous albums and an ever-growing fanbase to her name has stepped away from songwriting duties on her forthcoming album (Aug. 16) and made an entire record of Cars cover songs. [I’ll wait here while you take a minute to wrap your mind around that one.] Yes, it’s true, and yes, the album, aptly entitled Cars (Signature Sounds), works. Featuring a band of 15 multi-instrumentalists playing banjo, mandolin, lap-steel guitar, penny whistle, organ, ukulele, clarinet, glockenspiel and more, the album strikes a nice balance between stylistically-faithful remakes and re-imagined interpretations. Unlike some of those bluegrass or string tribute albums that sound a bit washed out, Delmhorst finds the spirit of each song and makes it her own.
From the danceable party tunes “You Might Think” and “Hello Again” to the tortured “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Drive,” Delmhorst delivers the songs with fun, sincerity, musical loyalty and heart. She has the lyrical understanding and insights of a long-time fan; someone who has listened to the songs so many times that she’s on a deeper level with them. And she is.
The story goes that when Delmhorst was 13, she took her babysitting money and bought a copy of Heartbeat City on cassette. She proceeded to wear out and eventually destroy it. And as those of us from the cassette generation know, those little things had a way of getting you to listen to every single song and nuance on the album. Fast-forwarding was imprecise and time-consuming, so unless there was something you really could not stand, you ended up listening to the entire album. Over and over and over. It was great, and Delmhorst is here to remind us of that time.
Delmhorst has, with Cars, created something thought-provoking and nostalgic. She encourages us to revisit the albums that made an impression on us; became part of us. In doing so, she re-establishes herself as a talented song-crafter and interpreter; a woman who lets the music that moves her, run freely through her and into us.