The Wild Feathers | Medium Rarities | (Independent)
4 1/2 out of Five Stars
There’s no doubt about it. Any focus on cover songs can be a somewhat risky proposition for any outfit, no matter how well established. How does a band maintain any connection to the original without negating their own identity in the process. Do they try to best the seminal version at the risk of losing the familiarity factor? And is it possible to add anything new tot he mix when the song was mined from an iconic artist to begin with?
These are questions any number of groups have had to wrestle with over the course of their career, especially when the intention is to offer homage to some indelible offering that came well before. For The Wild Feathers, a respected Nashville-based band with ten years, three studio albums and a live effort under their collective belt, the decision was fairly straight-forward. With their forward momentum slowed by the pandemic, they set about assembling a collection of covers, as well as B-sides and rarities spawned from left-overs accumulated over the course their career.
As it turned out, the effort helped mitigate the fact that they had to take time off from live performances. “The pandemic taught us to never take touring for granted,” singer/guitarist Ricky Young insists. “It’s great to be home, but being out on the road and playing music is what we love to do and we miss it like crazy.”
While some might consider the new album a patchwork of sorts, it holds together remarkably well, and in fact, it boasts some of the best recorded performances of their entire career. The covers are not only well-chosen, but also fit well with their originals as far as their overall alt-country template is concerned.
“If you’re taking the time to learn and record someone else’s song, you obviously love it and it means something to you,” Young notes. “Your interpretation is up to you, but respecting it and doing it justice is important. Playing it exactly like the original kind of defeats the purpose, because that version already exists.”
The songs the band chose to tackle here — “Blue,” a classic song by the Jayhawks, “Guitar Man,” a seminal standard from the band Bread, and the insurgent Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s anti-authoritarian anthem “Almost Cut My Hair,” among them — find the band effectively towing that fine line, and while they recall the originals, the Wild Feather manage to add their own indelible imprint as well.
Indeed, as Young points out, picking out a cover can be a challenge in itself. In that regard he has his own criteria. “I like something that actually makes you judge a book by its cover,” he reflects. “If it catches your eye and makes you think a little, it’s great.”
Young says that the songs on the new album came from a variety of sources. “We have countless songs on hard drives in the studio,” he explains. “Some songs we don’t remember writing or recording. It was a lot of fun to go back and listen, and the songs that we picked just felt like they belonged together. It’s so hard to say what we were listening to at the time. It’s just kind of like a photo album of the last ten years.”
Although some of the songs were taken from the vaults, three new original songs round out the set list – the earnest and engaging “Fire”, the tender ballad “Goodnight” and the Eagles-like rumination of “My Truth” — all three of which sound like instant classics and, in fact, every bit as venerable as the covers.
“It’s been full of ups and downs,” Young says of the band’s trajectory so far. “We’ve learned to get back up when knocked down and to love what we do. I hope we’re always moving forward and never complacent.”
With the well done Medium Rarities, the Wild Feathers prove that they’re absolutely on track.