The Bird and The Bee
Making sublime, sophisticated pop music can be tougher than it sounds. the bird and the bee, the duo of singer Inara George and multi-instrumental/Grammy-nominated producer Greg Kurstin, know this not only from the experience of composing original material for their previous full-lengths, the bird and the bee (2007) and Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future (2009), but also occasional forays into the catalogs of other songwriters. Having previously put their stamp on the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” and the standards “Tonight You Belong To Me” and “Autumn Leaves,” for Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates (released March 2010), the pair devotes almost an entire album to the songs of two artists that hold a special place in their hearts.
As that no-nonsense title implies, the bird and the bee’s feelings about Hall & Oates aren’t framed with a wink or a cocked eyebrow. Their love for this music is genuine. “There’s definitely no irony,” insists Kurstin. “They’re great songwriters and these are great songs.” And he should know: For over a year, Hall & Oates’ 1983 compilation Rock ’n’ Soul, Pt. 1: Greatest Hits lived in Kurstin’s car stereo. “I never get sick of that record.” After adding a cover of “I Can’t Go For That” to their live set, the bird and the bee decided to take a crack at an entire Hall & Oates album. Ultimately, they chose not redo all twelve tunes from Rock ’n’ Soul, but the eight they selected – including ’70s successes “Sara Smile” and “She’s Gone” – have all aged beautifully.
But being able to hum along with a familiar chorus and breaking down a well-known Top-40 hit to its core components to rebuild it from scratch are two different things. Making Interpreting The Masters meant carefully deciphering Hall & Oates’ deceptively complex song craft, particularly since the bird and the bee sought to retain the character of the originals, not turn them inside out. Listen to the handclaps and slinky keyboard sounds of “I Can’t Go For That,” or the woozy rendition of “Rich Girl.” the bird and the bee bring these songs into their own universe—their interpretations are far from blue-eyed soul—yet the integrity remains intact.
“Doing cover songs is always a challenge,” says Kurstin. “You want to add something new, to be a little bit different.” But not so different that the initial emotion of the song is compromised. “We could’ve gone in completely the opposite direction, and made happy songs sad, but we don’t want to. There’s a certain something about these songs that we love, and we wanted to keep that.”
While the material stands on its own merits, the bird and the bee also concede that nostalgia colors their feelings towards it. “This music was always around, in the car and on the radio,” Kurstin remembers, reflecting on his youth. After immersing themselves in Hall & Oates’ songs and the feelings they evoked, the pair channeled their energies into the effervescent opener “Heard It On the Radio,” the album’s sole original. “That was our try at writing an ’80s pop song, because we’d been in that mindset,” explains George. With its elastic bass riff and bittersweet vocals, this recollection of FM dial favorites dovetails perfectly with the interpretations that follow.
The pair stripped back the instrumentation significantly on familiar fare like “Kiss On My List” and “Private Eyes,” highlighting harmonic twists and vocal melodies. Getting inside the songs only heightened their appreciation for the original recordings. “It was exciting to discover what an amazing singer Daryl Hall is,” says George. “I wanted to try and sing things exactly like he did, and it’s really hard to sing those songs.” But her persistence paid off, as evidenced by readings of “One On One” and “Sara Smile” that keep her voice front-and-center, and luxuriate in multi-tracked vocals inspired by the original three- and four-part harmonies.
While the bird and the bee is very open to the possibility of further albums covering other acts, their next priority is writing and recording a new record’s worth of their own compositions. Until then, fans can enjoy a fresh perspective on their artistry with Interpreting The Masters Volume 1. Pop it in the car stereo at your own peril.
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