A cover version is a form of tribute, a nod of appreciation to writers and performers that have gone before. A great cover needs to be a sophisticated balance between the power of the original, and making the song your own; a tricky high-wire to step across for any musician.
Jono McCleery is the latest artist to plant his foot upon the line and step out over the edge, with his new album of covers entitled Seeds of a Dandelion. It opens with a raw, distorted take on Roy Davis Jr.’s underground dance classic, “Gabriel”. Over the years I’ve heard this track elevate dancefloors and festivals to euphoria; with its garage swing, loose horns, and Peven Everett’s glowing vocals. McCleery takes a different path, striking electrified chords to punctuate his stunning, heart-melting voice. Strings swirl between the gaps, with long sweeps of sound counteracting the aggressive notes emanating from his guitar. Next, McCleery plays it slightly safer with a subtle twist on Paul Weller’s “Brand New Start”, adding strings and a piano to accentuate his soothing interpretation.
Seeds of a Dandelion is a record of contrast, sometimes shrinking behind the safety of the original versions, taking refuge in the familiar - possibly out of McCleery’s love and respect for the songs that have shaped him as a musician, and a man. "This is something I've always wanted to try, but it was important that I felt a really strong connection with the songs”, he’s explained. “I also looked back on all the covers I have played live in the past and found some to be ideal for this project, and I had been playing them for such a long time that they felt like my own already.”
But it’s when he takes a risk on his compositions that the music really shines. The punchy, rhythmic sway of “Know Who You Are at Every Age” takes the Cocteau Twins into new territory, with McCleery’s trademark jazz-tinged style scattered throughout. His rendition of “Ingenue” is a stroke of genius. The melancholy drone of the organ lays the foundations for McCleery’s faultless voice to take charge, reaching Thom Yorke’s dizzying high-notes with ease. Then, as soon as the bass and percussion kick in, the underlying groove is unearthed, turning the original’s mechanical beat into a more natural, uplifting high.
Seeds of a Dandelion is a strong collection of songs, made with the upmost respect for its inspirations. With its moments of brilliance, these brief flashes come hand-in-hand with thoroughly enjoyable tracks that seem to be just slightly lacking in something distinctive. Although this may be the case, the one thing that is constant throughout is McCleery’s voice. His tone and versatility is beautiful to hear, a singer who was truly born to sing. As we patiently wait for an album of new material, Seeds of a Dandelion is the perfect way to plug the void.