Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Joni Covers: My Secret Place

Owen Duff: My Secret Place

[listen to more Owen Duff here]

The vast majority of Joni covers are of songs from the early part of her career. It’s as if, after the Hejira album, she suddenly stopped writing good songs. And of course, that is not what happened. So, I am sure my fellow Star Makers will have many more “early Joni” songs to finish the week, and I look forward to that. But I also want to draw attention to some of Mitchell’s later songs, because many of them are just as good.

Take My Secret Place. There comes a point in a successful relationship when you feel ready to join your lives together, and share everything. Mitchell reached that point, and married bass player Larry Klein. My Secret Place is a perfect description of that point in a relationship. You don’t think of Joni Mitchell that way, but she found happiness for a time, and she expressed it as beautifully as any emotional state in her songs.

Joni Mitchell’s website has a section listing all cover versions of any of her songs, over 3000 in all. Owen Duff is the only artist who has covered My Secret Place, and I don’t know why. Fortunately, he did a fine job.

Owen Duff is as indie an artist as you are likely to find. His songs are recorded in his home, and he plays all of the instruments himself. His version of My Secret Place starts with just voice, a delicate acoustic guitar part, and an electronic pulse. At what is an anxious point in a relationship, Duff projects a tentative quality at first. But the arrangement fills out as the narrator gains confidence, and the song ends on a strong note. This is going to work! Duff more than does the song justice.

I asked Duff how he came to record the song, and his answer is worth sharing:

This particular cover I recorded as an experiment really - I like the song a lot and thought it would be interesting to try a more intimate approach, the original has quite a big sound with a lot of voices, so I did mine with just one close-miked vocal track (there are some overdubs at the end). I also wanted to try a more electronic sound out with the guitar, as I was between projects and experimenting with different kinds of production. The song I think was supposed to have been used in a film but wasn't in the end, so I had a sort of cinematic thing going in my head while I was recording as well - I wanted it to be intimate and cinematic at the same time! Lastly I'd say I prefer doing covers of lesser-known songs than well-known ones (although I have done covers of a couple of big pop songs), because I think people can find bad covers of their favourite songs almost sacrilegious, I know I do!”

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