When it comes to the genetic makeup of good music, the Genus of cover songs is made up of 3 distinct species:
a) Obscure or lesser-known tracks culled from deep within the stacks and brought to light through the cover artist’s appreciation. That tune you’d always thought of as an original and were shocked to learn hailed from an earlier source.
b) Popular or classic tracks re-imagined into something all together different, like the Flaming Lips version of “Borderline” or Red House Painters “All Mixed Up.”
c) Standards. Songs covered so regularly, by so many different voices, that you cease to think of them as covers as at all, and accept them as just another slight variation on an all-too-familiar theme.
The song “Moon River,” most certainly falls into the final category. A cursory look finds more than 100 different artists having recorded this Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini gem in the 50 years since they wrote it. From Andy Williams, Paul Anka, and Aretha Franklin to Sarah Brightman, R.E.M., Elton John, and even Joey McIntyre, a taste-scrambling array of artists have tried their hand, voice, and verve at an adaptation all their own.
And while Audrey Hepburn’s gentle lilting in Breakfast at Tiffany’s will always come-to-mind when hearing the tune for most, one version in particular has the chops to stand out and stand apart while still encompassing everything that’s made the song so timeless.
On their 1996 EP Going to Town, The Afghan Whigs deliver an incredible rendition that’s as deceptively simple as it is beautiful. At once haunting and hopeful, singer Greg Dulli’s soulful serenade coveys depth and nuance through a tune so standard you’d think it impossible to hear anything new.
Whether it’s the carefully restrained piano or the emotion that sounds like it’s struggling to break through Dulli’s smokey demeanor against his will, this stirring interpretation is sure to catch you in its current, if only for a little while.