Thursday, August 25, 2022

Eleanor's got it covered

Whenever Eleanor Underhill sets her mind on a project – whether it be musical, literary or even graphically artsy – it's probably best to let her follow her muse and simply tag along for the adventure. That's because she reveals remarkable talents in all of these right-brained (or is it left-brained?) hemispheres.

A case in point is the recent release of her latest CD, Got It Covered, in which she offers us her interpretation of 16 – that's right, folks, count 'em, 16 – favorite songs written by other artists.

Eleanor Underhill and friend.
 Those who know Eleanor (I've known Eleanor for nearly 10 years now, so I feel somewhat free to call her by her first name whenever I write about her) probably know her best as the banjo-playing half of the Americana duo Underhill Rose. She and singing partner Molly Rose Reed often appeared at High Rock Outfitters in Lexington and wowed us with their harmonies and comfortable stage presence.

But then the pandemic came and changed a lot of things. Furthermore, Molly and her husband, Tyler, have twice become parents over the past five years. Consequently, Underhill Rose found its touring schedule limited and confined mostly to the Asheville area, where they live.

But Eleanor couldn't stand still. I figure there's a sentient motion sensor embedded somewhere in one of her cranial hemispheres. In 2018, she released her first solo CD, Navigate the Madness, which gave her an opportunity to explore more eclectic musical paths other than folk and Americana, complete with songs that she herself composed. Doors opened and the well-received Land of the Living was released in 2020.

Now, prodded (her word) by her fans to do some cover work, she's come out with Got It Covered. 

Before I get into the song list, let me note that as talented as Eleanor is with the banjo, she is equally adept in the studio. In this instance, the album was produced in her home studio performing not only with her signature open-back banjo, but also piano, synthesizers, percussion, trumpet and trombone. Whew. Makes me wonder if she had time to feed her cat between producing and engineering this CD.

She also gets accompaniment from Zack Page on bass, Silas Durocher on acoustic and electric guitar, Jacob Rodriguez on sax, Will Younts on drums and Jane Underhill (her mom) on autoharp.

As for the songs, well, Eleanor runs the gamut, from a haunting "Eleanor Rigby" (The Beatles) to "Midnght Train to Georgia" (Gladys Knight), from "Boys of Summer" (Don Henley) to "Stand By Me" (Ben E. King). The song choices are so diverse that it really makes sense for this collection.

I had several favorites. Radiohead's "Creep" features piano and synth strings to Eleanor's emotive interpretation; The Rolling Stones "Beast of Burden" becomes a totally different song behind a female voice that inquires and promises at the same time; Tina Turner's "What's Love Got To Do With It?" highlights an unexpected banjo plea. And Madonna's "Like A Prayer" marries Eleanor's voice with the sounds of her banjo. It's almost as if they are having a conversation with each other.

But I think my favorite tune is "Waste" by Phish. This song is adroitly arranged with Eleanor turning soulful, maybe even lyrically philosophical, again with strings laying the groundwork. At least, that's what I felt. I wonder if it's her favorite, too?

I'm not a music critic by trade, but I think I know what I like when I hear it. These covers will likely take you to different places in the hemispheres of your own brain, to places where Eleanor herself has visited. I bet you enjoy the adventure.




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