If you’re really looking for an entity that defines the divide between the cosmopolitan and the rural in this here United States Of America, then fuck Trump and name-drop Florida Georgia Line instead. Who dat’, you ask? Why, only one of the most popular and best selling musical acts in the country, my friend, but you wouldn’t know it from perusing the digital ink on Pitchfork or Stereogum or The New York Times or whatever else you’re reading on your fave device within the bubble of that coffee shop in the coastal metropolis you call home. If you were to throw a rock on Bedford Avenue or in Eagle Rock or whatever street has the most record shops in Portland, it definitely wouldn’t hit anyone who could name a Florida Georgia Line song. And yet, I’m sure if you were to journey just 30 miles from the dead center of your Vanilla Latte safety zone and tossed that same stone, it would hit someone who has not only heard of them but who could bellow one of their songs word-for-word and has, on at least one occasion, claimed to have partied with them. It’s a Capital D Divide so complete it boggles the mind to even consider, and it speaks to the vastness of this land and the major differences between the people of its various terrains in much more simple and direct terms than mere politics ever could.
This is where Evan Dando comes in. No seriously. Hear me out. You could be forgiven for skipping over this Slacker God’s new covers album with his long-running Lemonheads outfit, just as you could be forgiven for skipping the last covers album he churned out ten years ago, saving your energy for the inevitable original-song comeback banquet. And yet this breezy, off-the-cuff, oftentimes bizarre collection of interpretations, a much better package than the last one, has hidden within it the key for true unity in this land, and this comes in the form of a two-minute, blink-and-you-miss-it acoustic take on a song called “Round Here”, which happens to be a mega modern country hit by those fireball whiskey chugging bros in Florida Georgia Line.
Look, I’m not gonna’ dis on FGL here. There’s a little something in this world for everyone, and if this stuff makes you happy then crank it up, you country charmed fool. Like any sucker sipping a nine-dollar CBD latte in Brooklyn, I’d never heard of them before an hour ago. Here I was, minding my own business and giving the new L Headz a spin, when a song jumped out at me from the midway point of the record. A Gram & Emmylou style duet with a gently strummed acoustic providing the bedrock for a free and easy tale of no-frills backwoods courtship, but shot through with a sense of longing much deeper than the trucks and field party imagery of the verses. Evan has covered Gram many times in the past, both on wax and live, and that’s what I assumed he was doing once again here, and once again to great effect. I almost didn’t even look it up. But something seemed just a little off with those lyrics, which if not delivered in the sophisticated pathos of a singer as skilled as Dando, could come off as, well, just plain dumb. Not that being dumb is necessarily a bad thing when it comes to music. “Louie Louie” anyone? But it didn’t sound like the type of lyrical magic Gram Parsons would have weaved, which is why I looked it up, which in turn caused me to discover, with much shock and awe, this FGL phenomenon (and it is a phenomenon indeed, with millions and millions sold and stadium tours), which in turn made me realize that Evan Dando, of all people, is the Great Unifier.
I know I said I wasn’t going to dis on FGL, but let’s just say I couldn’t quite make it through their original version of this song. There’s nothing that caught my ear, the melodies, lyrics, presentation, everything, that would make me think this was ripe for a stripped down reinterpretation. Revulsion is what I felt, to be honest. I wanted to get away from this song as quickly as possible, to put the most distance between myself and whatever it is that this song represents.
And yet that’s not what Evan heard. Somehow, somewhere, deep within the DNA of this glossy, modern bro country track, Evan Dando heard pure heart-on-the-sleeve easy strummin’ gold. And he nailed it here quite easily, possibly on the first take, with nothing more than a big bold strum and the aching backing vocals of Marciana Jones to prop him up. After subjecting myself to the original, going back and listening to the cover once more was a goosebump experience, and in more ways than this just being a good interpretation of an unlikely track. Not even the jarring juxtaposition of the follow up track, a punk rager cover of “Take A Quaalude Now” by The Eyes, could make those goosebumps fade.
What Evan Dando has done here is bridged a gap. When confronted with an entity that no was doubt designed to provoke him, in this case a good ol’ boy “fuck the city this is how we do it round here ya’ll” rural algorithm, he didn’t instantly recoil or lash out. He didn’t sneer or smirk or feel that he was somehow above it. He didn’t mock it. What he did was try to understand it. He looked deep within it, and to his obvious delight found a pure heart and the bones of a really good song. And if more individuals from all terrains could do the same then everyone, all of us, could put out a really interesting and enjoyable covers record.
We shall now anxiously await the Florida Georgia Line Mitski cover.