A Quick One Under The Covers

I said recently that I was aware that I hadn’t posted an Under The Covers piece for quite some time but have been prompted to do this, not just by my guilt but because a new cover was released last week of a song that I love, and for which I already knew an excellent cover version. So it seems like an idea for a quickie: rather than share several songs, I thought I’d just give you this one, in its original and with the two covers. There are other recordings of the song, but most of those don’t really do it justice, in my view.

The song itself has a tragic background story, which I think you need to know before hearing it. Crossing Muddy Waters is the title track of an album by John Hiatt, released in September 2000. Your first thought might be that it was about upsetting an old blues musician, but the real story is much sadder. It was his fifteenth album: it was recorded with no drummer and was a purely acoustic album that brought elements of bluegrass music into his Americana sound. He was nominated for a Grammy award for it in 2001 for Best Contemporary Folk Album, but didn’t win (Emmylou Harris did, for Red Dirt Girl). Like most of his records it performed steadily in the charts, reaching #110 in the US main chart, and #18 in the Indie chart. The song is about John’s first wife, Isabella, who struggled with mental health issues. They were estranged at the time when, sadly, she committed suicide. The ‘baby daughter’ in the song is Lilly Hiatt, now a well-respected singer-songwriter in her own right. Knowing that background, some of the lyrics are heartbreaking. This is John’s own version of his song, from a live appearance on the BBC show Later With Jools Holland, broadcast in December 2000:

That was some fifteen years or so after the tragic event, but you can still hear the hurt in his voice, can’t you.

The cover version which I’ve known for longest was released in 2015 by the all-female band I’m With Her. There are three members – Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan – and they have made some lovely music together whilst pursuing separate careers as well. This is their version of the song:

Three beautiful voices, three exceptional musicians. For me, it doesn’t get much better than that. There are five versions I could find on YouTube of John Hiatt playing the song, which have a total combined viewing figure of 216k. This I’m With Her video has over 2.1m, so it seems I’m not alone in being with them. To date, the band has released just four singles, of which this was the first, and one album. I’m hoping for more: individually they are all great, but the sum of the parts is even greater.

The newly released cover is by a band I featured in a previous post, Back Under the Covers, in March of this year. You probably won’t recall them, but this is the Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra:

Unless my ears are deceiving me – which is entirely possible – they take that at an ever so slightly slower pace, and I think that suits the song well. Again, their musicianship is exceptionally good and Rebekka Nilsson, the lead singer, has a beautiful voice: the harmonies are pretty good, too! In case you were wondering, the HBO come from that hotbed of bluegrass music – Norway. They released their first album in March – Migrants – and it is every bit as lovely as this might lead you to expect.

Having given you these three versions of the same song, I thought I’d close with a little bonus of something different. I mentioned that Lilly Hiatt, the ‘baby daughter’ in this song, is now a musician, and while I was researching this piece I came across this lovely interview they gave together in April 2019, to promote their joint release for a vinyl single for Record Store Day. On one side, John sang one of Lilly’s songs, and on the other she sang one of his. It is a lovely idea, and if you read the interview you’ll see how much their family means to them. This is Lilly’s part of that record:

I think she does a beautiful job with a typical John Hiatt song, with its intelligent lyrics. If you’re interested, you’ll find his original version on his 1995 album, Walk On, which Lilly describes in the interview as a special album for her, from a special time in her life – she was 12, and John and his second wife had been together for ten years at that point: they had clearly become a very close family after the early trauma in Lilly’s life. A fitting place to close this piece, I think.

See you again soon 😊🤘

24 thoughts on “A Quick One Under The Covers

  1. Pingback: November | Take It Easy

  2. Crossing Muddy Waters was both beautiful and sad; I had never heard of John Hiatt.

    that first cover was excellent; beautiful voices, a banjo, and a fiddle. a winning combination…

    the new cover is also wonderful, great voice. Who would have thought they were from Norway!

    Lilly did a great job with her dad’s song; I love this line: “you were born to blunder
    Born to wander, born to wonder”

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is both of those, and more. I was going to include John Hiatt in the Tuesday Tunes post I did on ‘Lesser Known Eighties’ but took him out as it was getting overloaded. I kept what I wrote, though, so may come back to it. He has been making records for around forty years, and you have just the twenty six albums to catch up on! His voice is a bit rough for some tastes, but I think it suits his style. In my view, he has never made a poor album.

      I’m With Her are excellent. Sara Watkins was a member of Nickel Creek, who made some lovely records, and the others are both solo artists who feature in a lot of collaborations too. All of them are well worth exploring.

      The HBO are pretty special, too. Quite a few videos on YouTube and this year’s album is lovely. Rebekka’s strength is how she feels the music, and the rest of the band are just as good.

      Lilly is good in her own right, too. She has inherited the ability to write great lyrics like that one, and I like her style – you can see her dad’s influence but she has developed her own approach. The interview I linked shows how close their bond is.

      Liked by 1 person

Please leave a reply, I'd like to know what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.