Right off the bat, you have to give credit to Doveman for making their new release, a re-imagining of the Footloose soundtrack, even listenable. The risk in this sort of record, considering the downtrodden sound of Doveman and the ironic kitsch built into the ‘80s film, is huge. Doveman’s Footloose could easily have come out a tired, tongue-in-cheek joke. Or worse, it could be a self-serious vanity project. But it is neither. Recorded as a favor to a friend who lost a sister and feels an emotional tie to the film, Footloose is a well-executed, and often heartbreaking, labor of love.
Thomas Bartlett, the mind behind Doveman, had his two biggest hurdles right off the bat on Footloose. The opening title track, originally a bouncy Kenny Loggins number about dancing your troubles away, is a brooding piano ballad in Bartlett’s hands. His cracking whisper of a voice drives the work-week sadness of the verses home, before lilting up into a high-register creak for the chorus. Bartlett turns Loggins’ bracing call to Louise into a crippled plea, making the song one of frustration rather than release. In Bartlett’s version, we’re never given the satisfaction Loggins wanted us to have. He never lets us forget that there’s tomorrow morning, and a line of mornings coming after that, where you will once again be working so hard, punching that card for another eight hours of work.
“Let’s Hear It for the Boy” starts off the same way, just Bartlett and a piano. There’s a little more life in his voice, but not much, still tired and hurt-sounding. But by the end of the song, when the band joins him and the accordion kicks up, we get our first sense of the relief in Bartlett’s voice. As he sings the title line, he sounds tired but happy to not be alone. Where he takes the feel-good get-together message of “Footloose” and turns it into something more lonely, on “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”, he retains the original’s new-love zeal, but coats it in a dusty layer of realistic fatigue. Bartlett puts the strain of looking for love on display here, without losing sight of the love found in the song.
Much of the album follows the same formula as the two openers. They start as solo piano ballads and build to something with only a little more presence. It never out-and-out fails, but it renders “Almost Paradise”—slow and plodding enough in its original version—as a threadbare, almost non-existent track. The closer “Never” suffers from the same barely-there orchestration, as Bartlett shoots for fragile and doesn’t quite get there. The rest of Footloose works better when Bartlett has a few more players behind him. The sinister drive of the drums in “Holding Out for a Hero” makes give his wispy vocals a little more to rest on. The echoed guitars, and slight reverb in his voice on “The Girl Gets Around” makes Bartlett sound like he’s singing from the bottom of a murky well, and with the same affecting strain he used so well on the title track.
It’s hard to really criticize Doveman for Footloose. It was a heartfelt favor for a friend, and they’re giving the album away for free. It might not measure up to their other albums, but it succeeds far more than it should. It will not bring to mind Kevin Bacon dancing in a barn, but it shows us that a number of these songs weren’t merely empty dance numbers. Some of these songs were actually well-written, and in Bartlett’s hands, they are a sweetly sad bunch.
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