Marianne Faithfull covers everyone from Neko Case and The Decemberists, to Billie Holiday and Merle Haggard on her new CD, Easy Come, Easy Go.
British pop singer Marianne Faithfull is probably still best known for her connection to The Rolling Stones back in the '60s, when she had a hit with their song "As Tears Go By" and was part of their notorious entourage. After many years struggling with addiction, Faithfull has been reborn as a raw, idiosyncratic singer. And, as her new set of covers proves, she still has a way with other people's songs.
Despite a constant flood of new music, people still like to insist it was all better in the '60s or the '80s or whenever. But Faithfull, who has survived a bunch of musical decades, recognizes that right now is a golden era of its own. Her new record, Easy Come Easy Go, is all covers, but alongside old standards are what might be some new ones. My favorite song from Neko Case's 2006 album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is called "Hold On, Hold On"; Faithfull's version here, with her scorched-earth vocals, may be even more poignant than the original.
The song selection here, like any good covers collection, plays to the singer's personality and history. And Faithfull had help from producer Hal Willner, a longtime master of matching singers with songs. It wasn't until I heard Faithfull's cover of "The Crane Wife 3" by The Decemberists that I realized that group's entire songbook would probably sound great sung by a British woman of a certain age — especially with harmonies by Nick Cave, who joins in here.
The material on Easy Come, Easy Go isn't all so recent. Besides songs by Morrissey and the experimental folk group Espers, there's a haunting reading of Billie Holiday's "Solitude" and a dreamy version of Smokey Robinson's "Ooh Baby Baby," sung with the androgynous cabaret singer Antony Hegarty. But my favorite of the older standards is the version of Merle Haggard's "Sing Me Back Home." It's set in prison's death row, and Faithfull's ravaged vocals get even more ravaged backup from Keith Richards, her Rolling Stones partner in crime so many years ago. It's a great example of how a great interpreter can make the song's truth her own, no matter when the song was written, or what its literal meaning is.
Marianne Faithfull takes on a wide range of covers on Easy Come, Easy Go, including songs by The Decemberists, Dolly Parton and Morrissey.
In a 2005 interview with NPR's Scott Simon, Marianne Faithfull talked about being thrust onto the music scene in the early '60s, at the age of 17. She was munching on hors d'oeuvres at a party and was approached by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham.
Faithfull recalled the story, in which Oldham asked, "'Can you sing?' I said, 'Mm, mm, I can. Mm. Mm.' And I think about a week later, I got a telegram from Andrew saying, 'Be at Olympic Studios at 2 o'clock at such-and-such address, London.' And that's where we did 'As Tears Go By.' "
"As Tears Go By," written for Faithfull by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, was later recorded by The Rolling Stones. Faithfull had a famous and long-running relationship with Jagger, scraped bottom with a heroin addiction and eventually pulled herself back up over the years to record critically acclaimed albums, including Broken English in 1979. In 1987, she released a triumphant collection of covers called Strange Weather.
Producer Hal Willner was Faithfull's partner in crime for Strange Weather. Now, two decades later, they're together again for a new CD, Easy Come, Easy Go: 12 Songs for Music Lovers.
Before she released Before the Poison in 2005, Faithfull told NPR that she had set out to make the "darkest Marianne Faithfull album that's ever been made." By contrast, Easy Come, Easy Go is a different record.
"I know some of the songs are very tragic," she says, "but I don't think this is a sad record."
Easy Come, Easy Go features a broad assortment of cover songs — everything from old tunes like Dolly Parton's "Down from Dover" to newer songs by The Decemberists and Neko Case. Of all of them, Faithfull says, she found Duke Ellington's "Solitude" the most difficult to interpret. It's been sung by many, but Faithfull looked to Billie Holiday's version for inspiration. But she by no means tried to emulate Lady Day.
"I sing it as me. You just can't. It would be cheap," Faithfull says. "What I'm doing is expressing the song in my own emotional connections."
Featuring a wide range of collaborators and musicians — Rufus Wainwright, Sean Lennon and Marc Ribot, to name a few — Easy Come, Easy Go makes generous use of full arrangements. In particular, Randy Newman's "In Germany Before the War" gets a lush, cabaret-style arrangement in the style of Kurt Weill.
In an interview with host Liane Hansen, Faithfull takes her through the story behind singing Morrissey's "Dear God Please Help Me" and the beauty of Merle Haggard's "Sing Me Back Home."
An audio link will be available at the top of the page sometime around noon ET Sunday. Click the "Listen" link to hear the full interview.