December 3, 2009
YouTube Rodeo: Ranking Eight Covers of Palace Music's "New Partner"
"New Partner," the brilliant ballad from Palace Music's bar-setting, perfect 1995 collection Viva Last Blues, is the second-greatest song Will Oldham has written, in our humble opinion. His best song is the distressingly sad (to the extent we can't bring ourselves to listen to it sometimes) but absurdly titled "You Have Cum In Your Hair And Your Dick Is Hanging Out." But that is a topic for another day. Over a recent weekend we wondered to ourselves why no one had ever covered "New Partner," and moseyed on over to YouTube to see what we could see. After about a half-hour screening videos we modified our query to "why have only very few covered 'New Partner,' and even fewer covered it well?" Below we rank the eight covers we encountered. The winner's clip is posted atop this item. Note that the video for the winning clip sucks -- this wasn't a contest for best video, it was a contest for best cover. So there. The winner, also-rans and commentary in descending order below.
1. The Frames "New Partner" (studio version)
Like we said, this video is a weak slideshow. But the performance holds fairly true to the original, with perhaps a couple layers of gloss shellacked over top. We're not crazy about the lead voice, but The Frames, an Irish act that will celebrate 20 years of, uh, banding, next year, really work the dynamics of the song. This is head and shoulders, and maybe a sternum, above what is below.
2. Woodstein52 "New Partner"
Don't know who this guy is, but he nails this, and we very nearly named him the winner of this little exercise, except we weren't crazy about his phrasing in the chorus. But the lone man and guitar totally going for it really captures and conveys an Oldham-esque vibe.
3. dEUS "New Partner"
Another very strong entry, but we docked these guys substantial subjective points for the stupid capitalization thing they do with their band name. Sorry dudes. This is actually a really nice cover, although we lose the feel a little in the second verse. The first singer should have just bogarted the proceedings and left the other chap to back him up.
4. The Frames "New Partner" (live version)
Hey, look, it's The Frames again! Technically the studio and the live version are separate covers, so we gave them two entries. Obviously this suffers from the audience clearly not giving a shit about this band -- until suddenly at the second chorus you can hear under the buzz of the crowd a swell of the audience singing along. That's pretty cool. Still not as strong as the studio version, but that is likely as much a problem with the audio quality from this video as much as anything.
5. Jacob Ruefer "New Partner"
And we've dropped into the bottom half. This is a well produced, if not over produced, cover. The singer and the arrangement, unfortunately, completely miss the mark emotionally. This sounds like the kind of industrial pop you hear over the public address system at a regional airport or something. Sorry Mr. Ruefer.
6. Mark Kozelek "New Partner"
You know Mark Kozelek, yeah? He was the Red House Painters guy? Unfortunately he tries to do something very original with the track here, and while we admire his yen for experimenting with a beloved song, this cover is tepid and confusing. If we didn't know anything about the Palace Music version we might think this is great. But sadly, that is not the case.
7. Lev9876 "New Partner"
Starts out with a promising Dylan-esque twang but then the vocal just goes places we don't want it to do, hunting out cascading notes like all the Mariah Carey wannabes you hear soundtracking television shows or appearing on reality television competitions. But we do love the little yodle bit he does in the third line of each pre-chorus. But on the whole there is not enough Hank Williams, and too much "American Idol," in this version.
8. gnohara "New Partner"
We like that this guy goes for it, but the fact is there is just not a lot of there there once that chorus rolls around what with the fellow's vocal sneer. If it wasn't for that, we think we'd have ranked this one much closer to the top, because we like the genuine gusto of the delivery.