Tuesday, March 1, 2016


On my comprehensive, extremely well thought out list of the hundred greatest albums of all time (which I haven't created yet) I would certainly include Sky Blue Sky by Wilco. It's sad and soulful and all those things I like best in music. And though if you roam about the critical landscape on Wilco you will not find Sky Blue Sky much revered, it should be noted that those are just opinions. I'm dealing with facts here.

But I'm not here to discuss the objective brilliance of Sky Blue Sky. Or maybe I am. We'll see...

On Thursday nights at The Riverview Cafe Open Mike Night the variety of performers do roughly 50 percent covers. But these tend to be very smart covers. If it were all just hit songs and best of pieces it wouldn't be The Riverview at all. There we get deep covers, old covers, even odd pop covers that you might think couldn't be covered. Americana is popular, like maybe an Oh My Darling Clementine. The other night there were three John Prine covers. But everything from Folsom Prison Blues to a First Aid Kit song might show up. Most weeks of the open mike we see one old guy perform, possibly a bit less ancient than he looks, whose slightly broken voice can surprisingly belt it out at times. He did what I long assumed were well crafted historic country classic covers, old standards from the heartland that I somehow missed over the years. Only this week did we find out he wrote all his own material. It can get like that at the Riverview, the covers sound like originals and the originals sound like covers.

One of our favorite performers, who looks a bit like Richard Dreyfuss as Richard Dreyfuss looks now, and who might cover anything from a Foreigner song to The Traveling Wilburys with enormous vigor, did a beautiful job on an older Wilco song called Passenger Side.

Hey, wake up, your eyes weren't open wide
For the last couple of miles you've been swerving from side to side
You're gonna make me spill my beer,
If you don't learn how to steer
Passenger side, passenger side,
I don't like riding on the passenger side

And this is just it about a good cover, they illuminate rather than reflect. Because these performers make such excellent choices I not only immensely enjoy the songs I hear, but they become new to me. I see them better. I can be especially slow to notice lyrics, but the way people do covers at the Riverview almost always wakes me up to them. And what a clever piece of character is there that Jeff Tweedy has written. Pathos, empathy, and sheer ridiculousness:

Roll another number for the road
You're the only sober person I know
Won't you let me make you a deal,
Just get behind the wheel
Passenger side, passenger side,
I don't like riding on the passenger side

Our Riverview cover was done in a high, reedy un-Jeff Tweedy sort of voice. Oddly enough it came right after our Richard Dreyfuss singer had done a close to dead-on Roy Orbison singing Traveling Wilbury's song, no small feat. It took me a couple of verses to even place the Passenger Side song and who it was by. But from the start I was well enough spellbound by how cleverly it was written.

Should've been the driver, could've been the one
I should've been your lover, but I hadn't seen...
Can you take me to the store, then the bank?
I've got five dollars we can put in the tank
I've got a court date coming this June
I'll be driving soon
Passenger side, passenger side,
I don't like riding on the passenger side

Such a great song. 

Just like you, the only thing I like better than wit and cleverness and pathos and foolery is when all of the sudden, it isn't. But that's Sky Blue Sky and comes a bit later in their career. 


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