Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs

Under the Covers, Vol. 1 (Shout! Factory)

Matthew Sweet Susanna Hoffs
It seems as if almost every rock performer eventually releases an album of covers or a tribute to an influential performer or genre. Such projects are often viewed as a sign that the well of inspiration's running dry -- but the bottom line is: Does the interpreter "personalize" the material, and are the versions any good? With Under the Covers, in which onetime power-pop prince Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs (ex-Bangles) take on '60s hits and semi-obscurities, the score's about 50-50. All the renditions are outstanding (accompanists include Van Dyke Parks and Richard Lloyd), although some arrangements are so similar to the originals (the Who's "The Kids Are Alright") that one might wonder what the point is.

But there are some fine renovations -- Hoffs' take on the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning" comes from the heart, her vibrato-rich voice ringing with lost innocence and guarded optimism, the melody driven by a guitar's sighing sustain. Love's "Alone Again Or" features slyly compelling sand-and-honey harmonies that enrich the original's Mexican mariachi and Spanish undertones. Nothing historic, but for '60s enthusiasts or those curious about that era's enduring influence, Covers is a pleasurable listen.

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