With the re-release of Marshall Crenshaw’s fantastic 1999 album #447 fans can dig into an LP full of undervalued gems like “Television Light,” “T.M.D.” and “Right There in Front of Me.” The new re-issue also includes Crenshaw’s most recent new recording, a double A-sided single of “Santa Fe” and “Will of the Wind.” Just listen to the smooth hookyness and ace guitar playing on the latter tune. Damn, Marshall has still got it!
Revisiting Crenshaw’s work from the 1990s got me wondering just why others have not mined his catalogue for covers in the way we’ve seen people do with other comparable acts from his era. I mean, Nick Lowe has got FOUR separate tribute albums and an LP of Los Straightjackets’ instrumental versions. Where’s the Crenshaw love? So far, it seems mostly focused on his early work and by early I mean his pre-major label singles and the self-titled debut album. So in honour of the deluxe re-release of #447 I decided to work up my own tribute album by gathering together what covers I could find, avoiding the really obvious ones (sorry Bette!) in favour of less well known versions. It’s basically a ‘taking liberties’ version of that first album I’ve dubbed Reinventing Marshall Crenshaw.
We kick things off with sometime Beach Boy pinch-hitter Jeffrey Foskett. He’s just the guy with the vocal chops to cover “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time.” The results are a slightly tighter updating of Marshall’s own great take on the tune. Ronnie Spector sings the hell out Marshall’s perfect paean to the early 1960s girl group groove “Something’s Gonna Happen.” And she would, wouldn’t she? Sweden’s Mom takes the opening cut from Marshall’s debut in a new direction, amping up the guitar slashes and bass guitar lines on “There She Goes Again.” Musically it’s very Cars at times. Next up we head to Argentina for Gatos Pandilleros‘ spirited version of “Someday Someway.” It’s got a charming stripped-down feel that lets the song’s joy shine through. Red Hot take “The Usual Thing” into a more rockabilly and country direction vocally while retaining Marshall’s distinctive guitar aura. The Unswept step on the jangle pedal for their reworking of “Cynical Girl” and it works, adding something special to a song already pretty dear to the hearts of Crenshaw fans. Though ultimately featured on Field Day, demos of “Whenever You’re on my Mind” also come from the same period as the debut album. Thus I think we can sneak it into this tribute. As it is my fave MC tune I’ve got two covers. One is a wonderfully shambolic DIY take from Michael Fiore that comes off like a deep cut from a Replacements live album. The other is a more spartan guitar pop treatment from The Kavanaghs. Both manage to coax the magic out of this irrepressible classic.
There are other covers of Marshall’s songs. Sometimes they come from co-writers like Don Dixon and Bill DeMain, or from big name acts like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, or country artists like Lou Ann Barton and Kelly Willis. But come on people, this hardly scratches the surface of Crenshaw’s amazing catalogue! We are long overdue for an MC tribute album, one that draws from the full breadth of his impressive recorded output. Let’s see someone take the lead on this project … now.