[Album Review] Grey Lands- Songs By Other People
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by Mark Anthony Brennan

Release Date: August 12th, 2014
Label: Paper Bag Records

I enjoy an interesting cover song as much as the next person, but I have rarely been inclined to review an entire record of them. Once in while, however, a covers album comes along that is more than just a tribute – it makes an artistic statement of its own. Such is the case with the aptly titled ‘Songs By Other People’ by Grey Lands, a side project of Cuff the Duke leader singer Wayne Petti.

I have no idea what induced Petti to pick these particular songs but it was an inspired move. With the exception of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” (OK, and maybe “Girl from the North Country”) these tunes are pretty obscure, but damn they are all excellent. I’d be just as happy with a collection of the originals. Then again, that would just be someone’s personal mixtape and, yeah, what’s the point in that?

Petti displays not just affection but a true songwriter’s appreciation for these works, and it shows in the fact that he stays fairly true to the originals in his interpretations, resisting any urge he may have to break them down and reconstruct them with his own vision. Ever respectful, he realizes that there is already a brilliance at work in these songs, so he only employs the subtlest of touches in establishing his own mark so that, at the same time, he allows that original brilliance to shine. Consider, for example, Sloan’s “Coax Me”, a 1994 slacker alternate folk song. Petti deftly adds some echoing depth and it comes off sounding more like a lush torch number, bringing the intelligence of the lyrics and the beauty of the music into full relief.  

From the sadly departed Jim Sullivan (talk about obscure!) to the nearly forgotten Buffy Sainte-Marie and the underappreciated M Ward there is no letting up on the excellence here, but there are two other tracks worthy of special note. The original version of “Sand” by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra was a wonderful slice of that odd mid-’60’s Vegas/Nashville scene. Petti, with the able assistance of Sarah Harmer, takes Hazlewood’s treatment a step further, adding more reverb and a slightly spacey-sounding bass-line for a nostalgic trip to a 1960’s that only existed in Thunderbirds movies. Then there’s the real showstopper: M Ward’s “Outta My Head”. The lyrics are undeniably quirky, but Petti demonstrates that the whole package is gorgeous enough to withstand being presented in a more conventional country-folk style. The song is then topped off with an outro featuring a smouldering of guitar distortion that ever so slowly comes to a boil. Pure genius.   

(Note to Randy Bachman:  That nod to “Telstar” by the Tornadoes didn’t get past me. Nice one, bud.)