Reviews: July/August 2019

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Some Guys
Jonathan Coulton ’93
Streaming, MP3, CD, vinyl, $10
Reviewed by Peter Ames Carlin

Peter Ames Carlin is writing a history of Warner Bros. Records.

Jonathan Coulton’s cover of “Sister Golden Hair” presents as a sleight of hand. The opening 12-string guitar strums are exactly right, and so is the slide guitar line that sirens in at the fifth bar. The electric rhythm guitar is deeper in the mix but also so perfect in tone and placement that anyone familiar with America’s 1975 smash hit would have no doubt that they’re listening to the same recording they’ve been hearing since the Ford administration. Until the vocals start, because isn’t that a whole other guy singing?

Indeed. All of the songs on Coulton’s Some Guys, released on his own label in April, are near-exact copies of the soft rock hits the singer-songwriter loved during his awkward teenage years. Although he’s best known as a comic balladeer of nerd culture for the NPR/hipster set—he’s currently on tour with indie singer-songwriter icon Aimee Mann—Coulton came to this project with serious, heartfelt intent. And not as an Elaine Sturtevant–style meditation on authenticity and originality, but as a tribute to both the music and the sensitivity of his younger self.

Coulton’s hip credentials give the rest of us license to hear the songs with new ears. His multi-tracked vocals on “How Deep Is Your Love” have a depth the Bee Gees’ falsetto harmonies lacked. Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” will never not be intolerably self-pitying, but who knew that Michael Martin Murphey’s ballad “Wildfire,” in which the singer’s fixation on a girl who expired years earlier foreshadows his own death, had the eeriness of an Ambrose Bierce tale?

The redo of the Eagles’ “New Kid in Town” misses the alternating textures of Don Henley’s and Glenn Frey’s voices, and there’s a more-felt-than-heard funk to the Commodores’ “Easy” that you won’t find here. But Coulton’s coming out as a guy with feelings for 1970s soft rock is too much of a pleasure to let that keep you away.

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