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Love Canon: Bluegrass Covers of 80’s Hits

June 29, 2013

Logo for Love Caonon

Yes, you read that right. Love Canon transforms the songs you remember from the 80’s into works of bluegrass artistry. I saw them live last night at Hill Country, and it was an excellent show. (Full disclosure: the banjo player, Adam Larrabee is my cousin. But if the show hadn’t blown me away, I wouldn’t be gushing all over my blog, as I am now about to do.)

While the band was clearly having plenty of fun with the goofy exuberance of bluegrass 80’s covers, and the mere idea of “Whip It” reimagined as bluegrass might give you pause (or nearly make you spit-take your beer when you recognize the notes of the intro… that might have happened to me last night) this isn’t a gimmick band. Love Canon hails from Charlottesville, V.A. and its members bring conservatory and jazz training, as well as formidable musical talent to the exercise of 80’s pop. There were moments where I wanted to count the mandolin player’s fingers because I was sure that the speed of his flurry of notes couldn’t possibly come from the requisite 5 on each hand.

Listening to Love Canon comes in stages: a few moments of the intro where recognition of the song falls into place, a mix of delight at a familiar song and curiosity about where the band’s going to take it. Appreciation, sometimes singing along with a familiar verse. Possibly a few giggles of delight at the sheer goofiness. (Some of the songs are plenty goofy in the original form. “She Blinded Me With Science” always makes me grin.) And then frank, slack-jawed astonishment- either at the ways the song got transformed, or the way it’s getting positively levitated by incendiary solo riffs on the mandolin/dobro/banjo/guitar. Never thought I’d see a mandolin or a banjo getting the kind of shredding workout suited to a hair-teased, acid-washed rock ballad. But it works. There were people singing along, grinning, clapping, even getting up and dancing.

Some songs from the 80’s lend themselves pretty plausibly to a bluegrass cover. “The Boys of Summer” is absolutely improved by a fiddle, banjo and dobro, but not transfigured. Same with “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.” Pretty much anything by Tom Petty doesn’t have very far to go to be believable as bluegrass.

“Touch of Gray” took a much more overtly reggae turn than the original, which worked beautifully, both in reference to improving the original and because it made for a really fun use of the instruments on hand. As I understand it, Adam did most of the arranging. This was one of the songs that sounded reimagined with particular care and particular success.

They rocked out “Crazy Train” with a stand up bass providing the meat on the bones of the deeper register of chords. And it really, really worked. Both in an “I can’t believe that I am hearing Ozzy Osborne played on banjo, guitar, bass, mandolin, dobro and fiddle” way and a “that’s some good music!” sort of way.

Talking with Adam after the show, he made the point that “it’s not a cover band,” because  it’s not isolated to one artist, but to a whole range across the decade. So much goes into transforming and reworking arrangements to keep the faith of the original but giving melodies formerly buried under synthesizers a chance to breathe, and work on bluegrass instruments. So it’s not a cover band… more of a reupholstering from the guts of the song out, to make it something completely new.

One flaw of Love Canon: They’re based in the aforementioned Charlottesville, and stay local much of the time. So going to see them more often will involve a road trip on my part.

If you want to hear a taste, you can listen to Love Canon’s 2 albums online here.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 17, 2014 4:03 am

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