As the album title clearly indicates, these are cover songs from what the subhead says is "Music's Greatest Decade." Many would argue with the '80s as "the best," but nonetheless Love Canon, a hybrid acoustic bluegrass/jam band from Charlottesville, Va., has chosen some interesting artists to cover in these nine selections. One does not equate electronic tunes of Peter Gabriel, REM, Billy Joel, Depeche Mode and Paul Simon with bluegrass. And, rather surprisingly, for a band with a solid lead vocalist and all-member harmonies, they call on four different guest vocalists. Numerous guests join on various instruments too.
Love Canon is a quintet of seasoned string players with guitarist and lead vocalist Jesse Harper, banjoist Adam Larabee, mandolinist Andy Thacker, upright bassist Darrell Muller and Jay Starling on the resonator guitar. Acclaimed fiddler Alex Hargreaves (Turtle Island Quarter, Sarah Jarosz) often tours with the band and plays fiddle on six tunes. Aoife O"Donovan sings on "Graceland," Mark Erelli on Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill/Icecaps of Pentatonia - Medley," Erik Krasno on Squeeze's "Tempted" and Keller Williams on R.E.M.'s "Driver 8."
Billy Joel's "Prelude (Angry Young Man)" serves as the instrumental opener before we hear Harper reach the high register in his vocals for Howard Jones' "Things Can Only Get Better." Here and throughout, there are crisply picked solos form banjo, mandolin, guitar and fiddle. Jerry Douglas' unmistakable Dobro graces "Kyrie Eleison" along with guest fiddler Mike Barnett. O'Donovan sings in duet with Harper on "Graceland" as the banjo and fiddle from guest Michael Cleveland punctuate the melody taken at a faster tempo than Simon's original.
Guest horns round out the sound for The Bee Gees "Islands in the Stream" while Lauren Balthrop adds the female vocal, alternating verses with Harper and singing duet as well. A full orchestral string section supports the Depeche Mode tune "Enjoy the Silence," perhaps the strongest vehicle for Starling's resonator. Erelli's fine vocals, along with guest Daniel Clarke's Wurlitzer piano, lead the Gabriel medley. Clarke appears again on "Tempted," where Krasno handles lead and backing vocals as well as the album's only electric guitar solo. Williams assumes lead vocals with Barnett reappearing on fiddle for "Driver 8," the closer and longest track.
Love Canon is clearly making a calculated move at drawing in a wider audience than the tried and true bluegrass fans by covering these familiar tunes. In some ways it's a gamble, but far the most part, they succeed.