I have never been a fan of cover albums. They're nothing I usually buy, or really even bother wasting my time listening to. The occasional cover on an album of otherwise original material is OK, but my preference is always to hear new music, new statements and ideas. I get that certain artists can put their own spin on a song, but more often than not I find myself annoyed by someone trying to make another's song their own with some radical new version.
Then one of my favorite singer-songwriters has to go and do a covers album and blow all my preconceptions out of the water. Except in this case, Greg Laswell is covering himself as nine of the eleven tracks on I Was Going To Be An Astronaut are re-worked versions of songs from his catalog. The lone cover of another artist is Laswell's take on Sparklehorse's "It's A Wonderful Life," while "December" is a previously unreleased song that was left off his debut album. Re-visiting your own material can often wind up with mixed or downright lousy results. But Laswell sidesteps every potential pitfall and delivers an album of beautiful, stripped down takes of some of the best of his back catalog.
Although a number of these songs were ballads to begin with, even the formerly uptempo tracks have been slowed down and reimagined. It makes for a cohesive presentation, this is a perfect night time album to unwind to. Tracks like "I Don't Believe It's Through", previously released as "New Year's Eve" on 2012's Landline, "What A Day" and "Take Everything" have been turned into lovely piano ballads. "How The Day Sounds" and "Off I Go" rely more on acoustic guitar, but everything here is carried front and center by that entrancing baritone voice Laswell possesses.
"High And Low" has always been one of my favorite songs Laswell has recorded and it is here, although since the song was already a rather sparse piano ballad, the difference is not as stark as it is on other tracks. Things only really change towards the end from the original studio version, but a gorgeous song it remains. My personal favorite is the new version of "Comes And Goes In Waves," still some of Laswell's best lyrics and here left to piano, strings and his voice, a revelation. It's a stunner on an album of reimagined songs that has made me rethink my stance on cover albums. If only they were all done this well.
Favorite tracks: "Comes And Goes In Waves", "High And Low", "I Don't Believe It's Through", "What A Day"
I Was Going To Be An Astronaut was released February 11, 2014 via Vanguard Records.