Man, a whole lot of water has passed under the bridge since I last posted here...
Seems like yesterday and it seems like forever ago, but in early 2020, I was onstage with my band The Powers That Be, celebrating the release of "(re)animate" and playing the songs from that record for the first time in front of a live audience. It was a thrill. The group had spent several months rehearsing and refining the material, and it showed. Drummer Chuck Sullivan, keyboardist Ed O'Connell, bassist Cal Everett, guitarist and pedal steel player Buddy Griffin absolutely killed it that night, carrying me through 90 minutes of performance bliss. It was a fun debut and we were raring to follow it up with more shows.
Alas, it was not to be. COVID 19 had just reared its head in the USA and within a week, the club where we were playing would be shuttered for a year to come. I remember sitting backstage that night joking with the guys that we should all go back out for our encore wearing surgical masks--just to get a laugh out of the crowd. Yowser. That's how early on in the life of the pandemic we were. Soon enough, of course, the seriousness of the situation was clear to us all. As the world fell prey to fear and uncertainty, musicians paid a dear price: clubs were closed, rehearsals were cancelled, and players were resigned to solitary confinement.
And The Powers That Be? Well, even though we couldn't play live, the quarantine made for plenty of time to write and record new songs. And that's just what we did--separately and (virtually) together. We collaborated on several new songs of mine, while Ed and Chuck wrote a dozen tunes together and Cal finished recording his terrific, (soon-to-be-released?) solo album. As 2021 turns to 2022, I expect that all this material will see the light of day.
In the meantime, I'm psyched to announce that I'm releasing a single for the first time. And not only that...a cover song.
I love covers. Cool covers. Not sound-alike, note-for-note recreations, but reinterpretations that bring something new to the party. That's what I've tried to do with "Every Breath You Take," a song we've all heard a billion times but, to me, has always been begging for a blow-up.
I always found it curious what the guys in The Police said about their biggest hit. In interviews, Sting would attempt to blunt criticism of his simple "take-make-fake" love-song rhymes by saying that people misunderstood "Every Breath You Take" and insisting it was really a sinister and twisted number. Drummer Stewart Copeland said the band's arrangement of the song was one of their worst. None of that kept it from becoming huge hit, of course. And it still sounds great on the radio today, almost 40 years after it was released.
With my cover, I decided to lean into the "sinister" side of "Every Breath You Take," which I don't think really emerged from the original. In keeping with The Powers That Be vibe, I start it bare, with acoustic guitar and vocal. From there, my mates dress it up.
Start with Nat Smith's counterpunch bass line, which provides drama right off the bat. Nat is a dear old friend from college days in North Carolina, and he's a super-innovative player. In every combo he's played with over the years--progressive rock, regressive pop, and his current aggressive bluegrass outfit The Guilty Pleasures--he always finds the contradiction in the music and delivers it with conviction. I love his rubbery playing here.
An even older friend enters at the pre-chorus. That's pianist Jon Spurney, who was in my first band--back in high school in Washington, DC. Jon is now a big-deal professional musician who composes for film and television (Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's shows, to name two), plays on Broadway, and has toured with the likes of Aimee Mann, David Byrne and Ronnie Spector. As he did with "August" from my "(re)animate" record, Jon transforms this cover from the moment he touches the keys. Listen to the way he builds the intensity with each new section of the song. Perfect.
Next comes Chuck Sullivan, the heartbeat of The Powers That Be and the man who more than anyone else helped me bring "(re)animate" to life. I've blogged about Chuck in this space before, but I can go on. He is undoubtedly one of the best drummers working in Washington, and has been for decades (in fact, he just re-released a fabulous record he made in the '80s with DC cult faves the Newkeys). Chuck's thoughtful percussion and dynamic conga playing on "Every Breath" give it an air of sophistication, don't you think?.
Coincidentally, here in November of 2021, Sting announced that he has a new solo record coming out. As part of his promotion he sat down for a fascinating interview with Rick Beato (the guy who created "What Makes This Song Great"--definitely one of the coolest shows on YouTube). Rick and Sting agreed that the bridge is the best part of "Every Breath You Take"--and I totally agree. An unexpected key-change, a punky thrash of guitars from Andy Summers, and a tumble-jumble of lyrics delivered by Sting with urgency and despair...that somehow spills right back into the song's main theme. Astonishing, even after thousands of listens. Sting says he still loves to perform this tune because the bridge requires real "athleticism" to sing. You can say that again...it sure took all I got.
Hear all those cymbal swells on the bridge in my version of "Every Breath"? That's my father-in-law, Fred Monte, playing his own cymbals from when he led show bands in New York in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. I had played the unfinished track for Pop and asked him what he thought it needed. "Sizzle on the bridge," he said. I quickly set up a mic and rolled tape. He nailed it in one take...naturally.
Which brings us to the last of the merry-men who grace this tune: Mark Williams, producer, composer, multi-instrumentalist and incomparable guitarist. Mark has produced a couple of my records and I always try to cajole him out from behind his mixing console to play guitar on at least one or two songs. Check out his slinky, double-tracked slide guitars on "Somewhere in the Night." On "Every Breath You Take," Mark delivers such a cool guitar solo. Somehow it straddles yesterday and today, paying homage to the new wave '80s but coming off fresh and modern. You go, Mark Kenneth Williams!
I hope you like my new single. If you do, please share it with your friends on Spotify or Apple Music or YouTube or whatever platform you like.
Thanks for reading, and thanks--as ever--for listening!