At the risk of repeating myself, I have to say that any cover found on a release is perhaps the less interesting part of the record. (Yes, I still call them records, get over it.) But sometimes the right choice of cover says a lot about the artist too. I mean, if you throw in an Oasis number you are basically saying, “please like me whilst I ride these coattails” or whatever that triangular bit at the base of an anorak is called! Then again, if you include a Tom Wait’s number you are openly running up the freak flag for all to see. Covers are also dangerous, if the rest of your record sounds like the b-side of that cover then you have shown yourself up to be a second-rate plagiarist, if it stands out like a sore thumb, a blatant opportunist. Sean Amor choosing R.E.M.’s Driver 8 walks the perfect line through all of those considerations, falling into neither trap but merely suggesting that both artists do indeed make perfect sonic travelling companions.
Generically, Sean Amor has always wandered between the worlds of Americana and a more homespun folk sound, whether in solo mode or back when he was co-fronting Bateleurs. The term British-Americana seems to suggest a seeking of approval but it does also neatly summarise what is happening here.
Kicking off with the title track, we are immediately in a wonderfully textured, acoustic landscape, one where additional guitar layers add lush depth and shimmering peripheral detail but which says faithfully on the side of the solo, singer-songwriter. The cool thing is that here, and indeed all the way through the e.p. you can hear additional instruments, a gently uncoiling violin, some understated bar-room piano, perhaps a subtle mandolin or an evocative, steel pedal-guitar. And that is neat trick if you can do it. Why go to the effort of adding all those additional sounds and sonics when the ing-writing is crafted so cleverly that it conjures them in the mind and ears of the listener? Good songwriting saves money! Stick that on a t-shirt.
The Ballad of Johnny Stillson is the earnest, brooding country narrative which Sean has always been so good at delivering, trading burning intensity with lilting accessibility to great affect and Summer’s End runs on a jaunty groove, an underplayed rockabilly vibe and chiming jangle-pop guitars.
So, back to where we came in and a great and authentic tribute to Fables of the Reconstruction’s finest moment. Covers are tricky. Either you try to bring something new to the song…arrogant, or you reproduce it verbatim…pointless. What you get here is Sean’s take on a sound which has obviously been a large part of his musical learning curve. It’s both them and him and it seems to serve both musical camps equally well.