Margaret Durante – “Use Somebody”
Songwriter: Anthony Caleb Followill
When a new artist releases a cover song as his or her first single–especially a cover of a non-country song–there are two ways it could flesh out.
A cover song comes with a built-in audience, or at least an “Oh-that-sounds-familiar” audience. And those 20-some extra seconds a familiar tune may buy can make all the difference between a listener turning the radio dial (or clicking the “Next” button on Pandora) and hanging around long enough to become invested in a new voice, one of the biggest obstacles hanging over an emerging artist’s head.
But, as Randy Travis would remind us, there’s always the other hand: A cover song can signal an artist’s reliance on material that may be more commercially profitable than artistically worthwhile, and it invites inevitable comparisons between the new version and its predecessors.
Newcomer Margaret Durante’s debut release “Use Somebody,” a cover of Nashville-based pop/rock band Kings of Leon’s chart-topping hit, falls somewhere between the two. While Durante’s performance doesn’t show any symptoms of laziness, the same can’t be said for her success in making the song her own or providing potential fans with any signs of her point of view as an artist.
Of course, there’s a reason the song was popular and often-covered: Its lonely urgency is underscored thoughtful, interesting lyrics like “Off in the night, while you live it up, I’m off to sleep/Waging wars to shape the poet and the beat/I hope it’s gonna make you notice/I hope it’s gonna make you notice/Someone like me”.
Established singers Paramore, Nickelback and Kelly Clarkson have taken their own stabs at the hit, albeit as one-offs featured during concerts and special acoustic sets. However, Durante–or, more likely, her handlers at record label Universal Republic–chose to introduce herself to the country music world with a “country” version of the song.
By “country,” I mean Durante delivers the song from a female’s point of view in the stylings of Taylor Swift and Colbie Caillat: She finds a natural rhythm that complements her vocals, but any brief glimpses of her interesting twang are disrupted by “whoa-whoas” featured throughout the song. And even though the original song’s hipster edge is shaved off with superfluous strains of steel guitar and fiddle, the production and arrangement remain disappointingly similar.
Although Jimi Hendrix famously covered “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” just two days after its initial release, it feels a little soon to reinterpret a song that debuted just under one year ago; however, because her target audience may be largely unfamiliar with the tune and its writers, that probably won’t be a hindrance for Durante.
Still, in terms of bringing a convincing female perspective to the song, Durante doesn’t come close to indie singer Laura Jansen’s version of the tune, which marries an original arrangement with a genuine delivery. Here’s hoping Durante brings original material like “Put Yourself in my Blues” (a tune featured on her MySpace profile that’s worth the click) on her next go-round at a bid for a slot on country radio.
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