Even in her own highly-produced pop music, Apple has had a voice of music from another era — somewhere between smoky jazz ballads and brooding cabaret tunes. Courtesy of the artist.
Jazz artists reworking modern pop songs is certainly nothing new. It's more or less a tradition — even an expected practice — to be inspired by popular songs of the day and craft them into new standards for the repertoire. Could be Coltrane playing "My Favorite Things" (from The Sound Of Music) or Mehldau doing Radiohead covers.
But it's much rarer to find a contemporary rock artist who's able to do justice to an old standard. (I'm sure we can all suggest our own questionable examples of rock artist going "jazz" [ahem] Rod Stewart.)
A couple weeks back, I came across a few music blogs going absolutely bananas over an mp3 making the rounds. The song was of Fiona Apple performing an exquisite rendition of the old standard "Why Try To Change Me Now." It was released as part of an EP sold at a January tribute concert to acclaimed songwriter Cy Coleman called Then Was Then & Now Is Now. YouTube has the audio:
After the jump, comparing Fiona's version with Frank Sinatra's original.
"Why Try To Change Me Now," originally written with lyricist Joe A. McCarthy, became one of Coleman's first commercial hits, but only after it was recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1952. It was later covered by Nancy Wilson, Sammy Davis Jr. (with the Count Basie Orchestra), and many others. Here's Cy Coleman performing the piece himself:
And Sinatra's version, below:
Judging By The Cover: Fiona Apple Plays Cy Coleman
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As you can hear, the arrangements in these older recordings have the typical embellishments of tunes of the era: notably the fairly straightforward chord changes, the sentimental, if not saccharine string flourishes and a romantic crooning singer.
Apple's version, by comparison, is a sultry, pared-down treatment that winnows the music down to its most essential bits. The languid tempo, the stark piano voicings and, of course, Apple's characteristically haunting voice — especially as she lingers on certain phrases — all imbue a sense of loneliness not found in the originals. Even in her own highly-produced pop music, Apple has had a voice from another era — somewhere between smoky jazz ballads and brooding cabaret tunes — and "Why Try To Change Me Now" nestles sweetly next to the rest of her work.
With such an inspired cover, Fiona Apple definitely makes the case that she could tackle a full album from the standards songbooks, if she ever chose to do so: It's a winning tribute to a great musician's composer.
(Note: It looks like Apple has covered another Cy Coleman tune as well during a tour with Nickel Creek awhile back.)