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Music Review: Girl in a Coma – Adventures in Coverland

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Pick up any serious music publication devoted to the art of playing a musical instrument, say, Modern Drummer, Keyboard Magazine, or Guitar Player. Read the interviews with the musicians and a standard question jumps off the page:

“What are some of your favorite songs?”

For the members of the San Antonio based alternative power pop rock band Girl in a Coma, the easy thing to do would be to just mention a few of their favorite songs during an interview. Apparently they decided that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as actually recording their own arrangements of those songs and letting their fans in on the project.

On Adventures in Coverland, Girl in a Coma’s three volume series of EP vinyl/digital recordings, sisters Nina Diaz (lead vocals, guitars), Phanie Diaz (drums), and their friend, Jenn Alva (bass, vocals), share their own studio recorded cover versions of songs that were originally recorded by such prominent artists as Richie Valens (“Come On, Let’s Go”); Selena (“Si Una Vez”); The Beatles (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”); Patsy Cline (“Walking After Midnight”); Velvet Underground (“Femme Fatale”); Joy Division (“Transmission”) and David Bowie (“As the World Falls Down”). [Each volume will be released in three successive weeks in April, beginning on April 13, 2010.]

While Adventures in Coverland can be viewed as a tribute to the original songwriters and/or performers of these songs, a few of the songs represent a wistful look back at the music that Phanie and Nina Diaz’s mother cherished.

Getting specific about the song choices for Adventures in Coverland, Phanie Diaz said, “We chose to cover “Walking After Midnight”, “Come On, Let’s Go”, and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”’ because of our mother. We were raised listening to Patsy Cline, Richie Valens, and The Beatles. It’s very raw, very real music that was the soundtrack to our mom’s life.”

Some of the other songs reflect the music that the girls enjoyed during their formative teenage years. “As I started discovering music on my own, in came Bowie and Joy Division,” recalls Phanie. Those artists became part of Jenn and Phanie’s rotation. Phanie went on to say that she introduced those artists to Nina, who in turn discovered bands like The Velvet Underground and Nico.

There are usually two ways to approach cover songs. A band can opt to just emulate the original versions, although that is the road less traveled. It doesn't show much creativity, and it is hard to find a cover that trumps an original. If someone really likes the original arrangement, they will listen to the original version. As a result, most bands tailor the songs to match their own musical strengths. They can also elect to make very subtle or radical changes. The songs can then become more interesting, fresh, and in some cases, innovative. Girl in a Coma settled on the second approach. For example, Joy Division’s “Transmission” is restrained, refined, and stripped down, which makes for a good contrast when the tune reaches a crescendo at the end.

Another highlight of the set is the rendition of the Patsy Cline hit, “Walking After Midnight”. Cline’s version was released in 1957. It retains the sound of that era, a time when the technology was more primitive, tracks were limited in number, and the mixes were more compressed. Girl in a Coma’s take on this song is sonically brighter, and the vocals are clearly upfront and center in the mix. Another thing you will notice is that Nina delivers the “rather blunt lyrics” while maintaining the “somber undertone” of the original. The tempo is brisk, yet the song is still tight and cohesive.

George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” proves to be an ideal vehicle to showcase Nina’s powerful, evocative vocals. While The Beatles arrangement is tempered at the chorus, the girls make the choruses more intense. Heading down the home stretch you begin to feel the yearning, the desperation, and the genuine emotion channeled through Nina’s voice. Of course, it would be hard not to miss Eric Clapton’s guitar solos, just because they play such a major role on the Beatles’ version. Alternatively, Nina tries admirably to fill the void with the swirling power and elegance of her lead and background vocals, especially in the closing stanza.

Ultimately, the band hopes Adventures in Coverland introduces people to some of their favorite music and opens a window into who they are and what drives the spirit of their own music. Based on the performances and the comments of the various band members, you get the distinct impression that taking on these songs was a rewarding experience. But the group’s fans are also real winners here. Several of these songs are now being featured in the band’s live shows, and that’s a good thing. These tunes will blend in nicely with the band’s original compositions.

Grade: A-

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About Carl J. Mancuso