It's been a good long time since I've fallen in love with a new CD. But I am, for the moment, crushing fairly hard on Patti Smith's new(ish) cover CD, Twelve. Covers are nothing new for Patti, and she's gotten a lot of criticism for the more mellow and less drastic versions she offers on this album, but to my ear, this is some of her best work ever. It has a mature, almost tired, sound that makes sense to me, given Patti's age and everything she's seen, and also fits well with the songs themselves, most of which are decades old and some of which haven't aged all that gracefully.
The twelve song collection begins with fairly low-key version of Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced?" and culminates with Stevie Wonder's "Pastime Paradise" (which brings Coolio's "Gangster's Paradise" to my mind much more readily than Wonder's original, but that may just be due to my age). In between, Patti brings the house down with the best versions I've ever heard of both Tears for Fears "Everybody Wants To Rule the World" and Neil Young's "Helpless," my favorite track on the album, and a song I didn't even know I liked until I heard her do it.
Other surprisingly strong points are Patti's version of The Doors' "Soul Kitchen" and her Stones-true take on "Gimme Shelter" (a song that takes on a whole other thing when sung by a woman). The places where the album lacked for me were the songs I was most looking forward to hearing--the nonsensical ramblings of both Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (which, much as I love the original, probably didn't ever need to have its lyrics enunciated so clearly) and Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit." The anthemic and hallucinatory nature of both of these pieces seems out of place on this subtle and melancholy album.
The collection is rounded out with the Beatles "With You Without You," Bob Dylan's "Changing of the Guard," Paul Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble," and the Allman Brothers' "Midnight Rider," with "White Rabbit" the only track where Patti takes on lyrics originally sung by another woman. Normally, ignoring songs originally done by women would bother me, but with the way Patti takes these guys' songs and makes them hers (reminding me a wee bit of the better parts of Tori Amos' Strange Little Girls), it works out pretty well.
This album brings up the question, though, if you are a musician or wish you were--which twelve songs would you choose to cover? I'll think about it and post my list later.