Sunday, July 15, 2012

Elvis Covers Part II: Watching the Detectives

The Henry Girls: Watching the Detectives


“Watching the Detectives,” Elvis Costello’s 1977 first hit single in the U.K. (reaching #15), was also his first single to credit his backing band, The Attractions. The song appeared at #354 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. I’ve always liked hearing it as the theme song when I tune into the show called “History Detectives” on PBS. But it’s actually a cynical statement about a girlfriend who is investing more in her relationship with the television. As the chorus declares:

She is watching the detectives,
"Ooh, he's so cute,"
She is watching the detectives,
When they shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot.
They beat him up until the teardrops start,
But he can't be wounded 'cause he's got no heart.

“Watching the Detectives” is Costello’s favorite song from the first five years of his career. He once said that he’d written the song after staying up for 36 hours, and then listening all night to The Clash’s first album.

For a cover of the song, I’ve chosen one from The Henry Girls’ new album called “December Moon.” From County Donegal, The Henry Girls (Karen, Lorna and Joleen McLaughlin) personalize their music with crystalline vocals, lilting melodies and eclectic influences. Karen plays fiddle, viola, guitar, banjo and even some ukulele. Joleen is a harper, but she also adds a little mandolin and piano to the mix. Lorna’s instrumental contributions are more understated, with some piano, accordion and chimes on a few tracks. All three women have music degrees, teach regularly, and have toured for years.

This cover of Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives” is a good choice for these musicians who appreciate the English singer-songwriter’s literate lyrics and eclecticism. The girls have Celtic roots so they downplay any punk rock style in favor of a more relaxed, albeit sophisticated, acoustic folk arrangement. Besides their own originals, this cover by The Henry Girls is a good selection for airplay. The Henry Girls are touring the U.S. this summer of 2012. Here are some of their planned stops:

August 10, Live on the Levee, West Virginia
August 15, Chicago Old Town School of Folk Music
August 16 – 19, Milwaukee Irish Fest

I wonder if they like old detective shows and if they're anything like Costello’s lead-off lyrics: “Nice girls, not one with a defect. Cellophane shrink-wrapped, so correct …”?

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