Volume 4 of Beatles tribute finds its mark

Published 4:51 pm Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Minnesota Beatle Project Vol. 4” is bold.

And yes, that’s a compliment.

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Vega Productions is releasing the latest cover album of tracks made famous by The Beatles on Dec. 4, and once again the proceeds are going to benefit music programs in Minnesota public schools.

Like almost any cover album, Volume 4 comes with many highs and lows — many in the same song. But the best part about these covers, is that the artists don’t simply settle for replays. Just like The Beatles, they take risks, and most yield positive results.

One high point is DeVotchKa’s version of “Girl,” originally off “Rubber Soul.” The song is a fitting choice, since the Denver-based band took its name from the Russian word for girl.

DeVotchKa is perhaps best known for its work on the “Little Miss Sunshine” soundtrack and the song “How It Ends,” which was revamped for the film as “The Winner Is.”

DeVotchKa tones it down a bit and adds a hint of Russian flare with a violin and mandolin on the melancholy tune.

The Minneapolis-based Haley Bonar also knocks it out of the park by slowing down the “Rubber Soul” track “For No One” and turning it in a song of soulful heartbreak.

Not all the covers are relaxing versions. By far the biggest risk of the album is “For the Benefit of Being Mr. Kite.” Van Stee, a musician who has dabbled in comedy, and a group of voice actors end the song with a skit of a circus performer being attacked by an escaped tiger and then a voice says, “The clowns are only bleeding because they love you. Taste their blood. It is like cherry cough syrup.”

A tad off-the-wall? Yes, but try listening to all of “Revolution 9” sometime.

Aside from “A Day in the Life” and “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” only a few of the songs on Volume 4 are among The Beatles biggest hits. The only Volume 4 selection also on the U.S. version of The Beatles’ 20 greatest hits is “She Loves You.” While it’s hard to argue many — if any — Beatles songs could be considered under the radar, this cover album picks tracks that aren’t the first tracks to come to the minds of most die hard and casual fans, like “Think For Yourself” and “Misery.”

After all, it’s often the biggest fans who will have the biggest objections to covers. The more loved the song, the more daunting it is to cover.

Many people have deep connections to The Beatles and their songs. I wrote a news story once on a Beatles cover band. While at their show, I saw a grown man become visibly choked up when talking about how important the fab-four was to him.

For me, the prime example of that Beatles aura is “A Day in the Life” — easily my favorite Beatles song.

Before I listened to John Mark Nelson’s version, I was prepared to be disappointed. But to my surprise, the teenage Nelson was strongest on what I’d argue is the hardest part of the song to cover: John Lennon’s portion. The rest of the song borders on being too playful with heavy piano, clavi and saxophone, but it’s still an impressive cover.

There are moments listeners will adore and other moments fans won’t care for, but the album is a pleasant reminder of why we can’t get enough of these songs in the first place.

The album’s proceeds go toward a good cause, with the money raised on the first three albums going to 30 public schools and 20,000 students across Minnesota. Fittingly, the album ends with some of those students, with the Bloomington Jefferson High School band’s rendition of “She Loves You.”