Susannah “The Bangles” Hoffs and Matthew “Girlfriend” Sweet teamed up for the first time in 2006, releasing what may be best described as a low-key powerpop album of covers, “Under the Covers Vol. 1,” with killer versions of classic rock (The Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing,” Dylan’s “Baby Blue,” and Neil Young’s “Cinnammon Girl,” e.g.) and some more eclectic choices like “Different Drum,” “Run to Me,” and “Sunday Morning.” Volume 2 attempts the same magic, with a balance of classic rock covers (“Bell Bottom Blues” is a particular standout), and some more ambitious selections as well. In some ways, the album reaches a little too far. “Seen All Good People/Give Peace a Chance” is an eight-minute epic that starts out interesting but just goes on too long. If you’re going to make a light, folkpop album, don’t do extended songs. On the other hand, the duo’s willingness to approach the offbeat and ordinary with equal enthusiasm produces the albums greatest successes. “You’re So Vain” and “Hello, It’s Me,” hew close to the originals, but veer off with just enough fun and spirit that they actually improve upon them. I’d tell you that their cover of “Sugar Magnolia” is also a step above the original, but The Grateful Dead have never been known for their studio efforts, so it might seem like damning with faint praise. But it shouldn’t. Hoff’s charm and Sweet’s skillful arrangement make the song as happy-go-lucky as its supposed to be–a love song for summer.
This second time around isn’t as consistently great as the first one, but there’s enough greatness here to make this the album that should be slamming from the deck while you’re driving on the sand this summer.
Scarlet Begonias-The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin. (Because the Dead are basically one dude with several bodies.)