Winterpills Pays Tribute on ‘Echolalia’; Dennis Crommett Explores ‘The Coast Road’

Flora Reed and Philip Price, at left, and Dennis Crommett. (Photo of Crommett by Chattman Photography)

Flora Reed and Philip Price, at left, and Dennis Crommett. (Photo of Crommett by Chattman Photography.)

Covers albums are trickier than they seem. Do a straight-up version of someone else’s song and it can seem more like imitation than homage, but misfire in reinterpreting the song’s essence and it’s a short fall into sacrilege. That makes for a small sweet spot, and Winterpills mostly manages to find it on “Echolalia” (Signature Sounds/Soft Alarm), the Northampton-area band’s new collection of covers.

Largely the project of singers Philip Price and Flora Reed while the other band members are occupied with jobs, raising children and other projects (see below for more on guitarist Dennis Crommett’s new solo record, “The Coast Road”), “Echolalia” compiles songs they have found inspiring, including tracks by the Beatles, Beck, Sharon Van Etten and Damian Jurado. It’s a low-key collection with the elegant, downhearted air that’s become something of a Winterpills trademark, both in the band’s choice of material and their interpretations. As their original material suggests, they have an ear for well-written songs.

Price and Reed stick close to the original on Van Etten’s “One Day,” cleaning up the rough edges with an artful arrangement and pristine vocal harmonies with Reed in the lead spot, and Reed taps into the hushed, soulful melancholy of Lisa Germano’s “From a Shell,” with atmospheric guitars substituting for the spare piano on the original. They take a different tack on Buddy Holly’s “Learning the Game,” turning it into a slow, shoegaze-y tune with a simple guitar line and Price’s mournful vocals swathed in reverb as the track builds to a cathartic, churning climax.

Nick Drake seems like a natural cover choice for Winterpills, whose music certainly shows the late folk singer’s influence. Price and Reed surprise, though, with a heavily arranged version of Drake’s “Time of No Reply” that expands beyond the bounds of acoustic guitar to include crashing cymbals and swirls of keyboards. It’s a fairly significant reinvention, and it works. Not every track does. The skittering, programmed drum beat on a version of Matthew Sweet’s “We’re the Same” distracts from Reed and Price’s lovely intertwining harmonies. And Jurado’s “Museum of Flight” was perfect to begin with, a masterwork of subtlety and understated beauty that starts to crumble under the force of the chugging electric guitar riff and full-throated vocals of Winterpills’ version.

Better are their aching version of XTC’s “Train Running Low on Soul Coal” and a nimble take on the Beatles’ “Cry Baby Cry,” both of which stand proudly alongside the originals – no small accomplishment.

Though Crommett contributed sparingly to “Echolalia,” his recent focus has been on “The Coast Road” (Secret Teeth). It’s his fourth solo album and the follow-up to his 2011 release “In the Buffalo Surround.” Where that album projected an expansive sense of seeking to connect, Crommett’s latest is a solo effort indeed: the singer and guitarist wrote and recorded all 10 songs himself. It’s a somber collection that places the focus squarely on Crommett’s searching lyrics and murmured vocals that sound as though he’s singing quietly late at night, lest he wake sleeping loved ones. He accompanies himself on acoustic guitar and adds layers of electric ornamentation: guitar swells behind him on “The Explorer” and gleams on “Tomorrow Night Is Another Day,” and he lays in a guitar break on “Go So You Can Come Back” that bobs and spins as though it’s been tossed on the sea.

“Silence is a luxury,” Crommett writes in press notes for “The Coast Road,” an album he calls a “spacious and personal document.” Leaving room for silence in these songs encourages his audience to listen all the more closely, and the effect is one of getting pulled in all the more deeply.

 

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