“I can’t go on, I’ll go on . . .” When it comes to the Beatles, I feel obliged to invoke Samuel Beckett. Everything has been said; enough can never be said. So let me say this: as long as I have eyes, ears, fingers and a keyboard, I’ll be talking about the Beatles.
And that is just referring to the band’s official discography. What about the incalculable covers of their catalog? With a band as beloved and unavoidable as the Beatles, we’ve heard it all. Especially the stuff we didn’t want or need to hear and, unfortunately, the stuff that can never be unheard (Bee Gees and Beatles don’t mix). That said, while nothing, of course, can ever compare to the real thing, there are some amazing tributes out there. Naturally, the more unorthodox ones tend to fare better, if for no other reason because they retain the spirit of the original without drawing an overly direct comparison, which is always a losing proposition.
I can think of several; so can you. How about Eddie Hazel’s funkadelic deconstruction of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”? Or Joe Jackon’s plaintive take on “Eleanor Rigby”? Or the enchanting Allison Kraus’ version of “I Will”? Or Jimi Hendrix’s straight-out impounding of “Sgt. Pepper”? Or anything by Electric Light Orchestra—oh wait, those weren’t covers? Never mind. The best one I’ve seen in ages, and one I suspect I’ll never tire of, is St. Vincent’s stylized, sexy-as-all-get-out take on “I Dig a Pony” which needs to be seen, immediately.
Understanding, then, that there is always room for more Beatles, the question still must be answered: is there really room for an entire album of Beatles covers? Well . . .
For this to work; for it to even be conceivable, the band would have to be tight, confident, and able to attack the music with a sufficiently appealing combination of purpose and irreverence. Enter Soulive, the funk-jazz (or is it jazz-funk?) trio that has been dropping worthwhile music for more than a decade. If you’ve never checked them out—on record or on stage—the group’s new tribute might be an ideal point of entry. Let’s start with the title: Rubber Soulive. I don’t know about you, but that had me at hello. If you have the ingenuity, or audacity, to come up with a title like that, you better be ready to deliver.
The good news is: they do. The better news is: the high points on this release are quite high indeed. The best news: there are really no low points. Wisely, the band keeps it relatively simple, and succinct: clocking in at well under an hour, there is little danger of getting bored, or overwhelmed. It is an impressive, mostly joyful, occasionally eye-opening experience and any Beatles fan should find something to love. Speaking of “Something”, it’s one of the finer moments. Here’s a representative live version:
I feel that. First off, an organ/guitar/drum assault is an ideal way to approach the Beatles with an all-instrumental agenda. The organ takes care of the bass and the second guitar (it has the heft to boost the bottom and the edge to color the lead runs and fill any/all gaps); the drums are solid (they won’t make you think of Ringo Starr, but they won’t make you miss him; what more can you ask for?) and, above all, the guitar shreds tastefully and Eric Krasno joins the select and not necessarily long list of artists who “get” the Beatles. His playing here is capable of making your heart break (more than a little now that George Harrison is gone) while smiling, just like the original. I’m not sure I can think of a more genuine or generous form of praise.
Other winners include their appropriately foreboding take on “Eleanor Rigby” (a perfect song for some brooding organ) and an uproarious rendition of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”. There are generous samples on YouTube of the band performing these songs live, so if you’re not yet convinced, take to the Internets and hear what you’ve been missing.
The pinnacle of this effort, for me, is Soulive’s semi-miraculous rundown of “In My Life”. There are plenty of Beatles songs you just don’t go near unless you can handle it, and Soulive handles it. Once again, Krasno seems to effortlessly manage the MacBook-thin line between reverential and revelatory. Less is more. Like the song itself, it is deceptively simple, but it’s power resides in its unadorned statement of purpose, lyrically, vocally and musically: Soulive understands that and conveys it, while putting their own rather indelible signature on one of our best-loved songs. Another live take (albeit with bootleg quality):
Check them out online and acquire a copy of Rubber Soulive while you’re at it; it will put you in the appropriate state of mind as the cold settles in and you battle the crowds to play Santa for friends and family (if you want to make them believe in Santa again, pick up a copy for their stockings as well).