Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Obits Dream If They Want To

Brooklyn-based indie rockers Obits may have been busy trekking across Europe in May, but the band still found time to cut two cover songs for a new 7" single put out by SubPop during their tour. Both songs are perfect fits for the band, showing off some snarly punk stylings in their interpretations.

At the same time, the single also revives some interest in the singer-songwriter who put the original tracks down: Willy DeVille of the legendary Mink DeVille.

If you've never heard the name, Mink DeVille was a long-time favorite house band at CGBG in New York City and Willy Deville a remarkable talent who helped rev up punk, rhythm and blues, roots rock, and the Brill Building sound (best described as a blend of rhythm and blues and Latin music) over two decades. DeVille's song, Let Me Dream If I Want To, is almost always among the top 100 standards that made 1970s punk rock.

Let Me Dream If I Want To rises up and out of the crypt.

The front track being selected is no doubt a nod to the special history it has from the crypt of Willy DeVille. It's the same song he opened with at CGBG when A&Rs Ben Edmonds happened to be in the house. Edmonds set to the sign the band that night, immediately pairing them with the legendary Jack Nitzche.

Despite this status, the song is largely considered a rarity. It's nearly impossible to find a sampling online. But for anyone who knows, although the Obits scrubbed the alternative title of the song, the meaning and lyrics remain intact. Let Me Dream If I Want To was sometimes referred to as Amphetamine Blues.

Singer/songwriter Rick Forberg does a brilliant job snarling through the lyrics. It's an especially good accompaniment to take on tour because the band's last album, Moody, Standard And Poor, was a little more restrained than their debut. Adding the cover to their touring track list no doubt livens up the presence.

What also makes it a bit unexpected is that Forberg was trying to tone down the screams because it hurt his throat. Maybe that doesn't matter as much as long as he doesn't do it in big doses.

The B-side is a bit tamer, but not much. This City Is Dead is a amazing punk-infused roots rocks track. The vibe is perfectly matched to Let Me Dream If I Want To, with its buzzing repetitive riffs and angst riddled lyrics. Simple, but insanely addictive as it pines away at boredom.

Neither song really showcases the true crackpot anglings and run amok creativity that has made the band a staple on the indie rock scene. Neither is as challenging for Sohrab Habibion (guitar), Greg Simpson (bass), or Scott Gursky (drums) as the Obits's original original material. And neither really makes us forget about the songwriting ability of Forberg, which is always missed on covers.

Maybe DeVille was right about how things might play out.

If you are a band like the Obits and you're going to cover someone, then it makes sense to turn to an underplayed New York punk and roots rock legend like Willy DeVille. And in covering a pair of underplayed songs, the Obits do a superb job making their take fit seamlessly into their road show (they could have had bonus tracks on the last album) while still paying homage to a career cut short.

"I have a theory," DeVille once said. "I know that I'll sell much more records when I'm dead. It isn't very pleasant, but I have to get used to this idea."

With these two new covers by the Obits, DeVille might have proven himself right. These are two of the most significant revivals of DeVille work since Quentin Tarantino droped It's So Easy on the soundtrack of Death Proof, which was part of the ready-made Grindhouse double-feature.

Let Me Dream If I Want To By The Obits Orbits 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

After their European tour comes to an end in Barcelona this June, expect the Obits to take a month-long break before returning to the road in the United States. The first venues to host them in August include the Red 7 in Austin and Marquis Theater in Denver. You can find four playable tracks from their website.

For the Let Me Dream If I Want To single, head over to iTunes. You can also find Let Me Dream If I Want To b/w The City Is Dead at Amazon. For anyone equally interested in sampling some early work by Mink DeVille, the best album to start with is Cabretta. What you'll hear is an amazing blend of roots rock, punk, and blues.
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