When I heard that Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong was doing an album of Everly Brothers covers with neo-jazz chanteuse Norah Jones, it incited a, “huh, interesting,” but I wasn’t floored by the idea. Apparently some people were.
The idea of Jones singing the songs of Don and Phil Everly sounds perfectly reasonable. And even Armstrong has had brushes with the sort of simple pop the Everlys were known for—“Macy’s Day Parade” and Green Day’s first big hit “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” immediately come to mind. The pairing of these two isn’t even that weird. In 2013, Jones and Armstrong’s worlds aren’t very distant. They’re bona fide pop stars. Between them, they’ve taken home 14 Grammys.
The most interesting thing about Foreverly isn’t that these two came together to play Everlys songs—that’s been done, most recently by Dawn McCarthy and Bonnie “Prince” Billy—but the fact they chose to cover one album in particular: Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, a departure for the teen idols back in 1958 that included traditional songs and country ditties from artists like Gene Autry and Tex Ritter.
And that’s what you get with Foreverly. It’s a country album—even more so than the original (with a slightly different song sequence). Where the Everlys recorded with just voices and acoustic guitars, Armstrong and Jones bring in drums, banjo and pedal steel to flesh out these songs of lost love, disease and murder. The additional instruments are especially effective on songs like “Long Time Gone” and “I’m Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail.” The highlight comes in the pitch-black murder ballad “Down In the Willow Garden,” which becomes even bleaker in its slowed, funereal pace.
Of course, the biggest curiosity would be how Jones and Armstrong’s voices hold up to those of the otherworldly Everlys. Well, comparisons wouldn’t be fair. But Armstrong holds down the melodies with heart and authority, while Jones does Phil Everly right with her smoky and elegant harmonies. In fact, having a woman’s voice (something Armstrong was adamant about when he decided to do the project) gives these songs more emotional depth. Simply put, they sound wonderful.
No doubt Foreverly will steer a few more listeners to Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. A good thing. And you can’t help but think the experience will also steer Armstrong and Jones forward in their respective careers. That can’t be a bad thing, either.