These two songs are both Kate Wolf covers. Who’s Kate Wolf? You might well ask unless you’re well versed in American country/folk/singer-songwriters of the 70s and 80s, which I’m obviously not, because I’d never heard of her until five minutes ago. Apparently her appeal is broad, covering folk, pop and rootsy country, although her songs are not immediately striking—they’re elusive and take time to grow on you, which is similar to what I’ve always said about Will Oldham’s music. Rainywood are two people, Rachael H. and Nathan P. They seem to only have self-released a CD EP in 2002. Good band name though.
Brother Warrior… is taken from Wolf’s final studio album, Poet’s Heart, 1985. The original is poignant, sad sounding and serious, advising someone, a brother perhaps, not to be afraid. It has a slight country feel. The lyric is sung to this character called “Brother warrior” who has “a heart like gold and a rainbow in [his] eyes.” Brother warrior is both shy like “a small child,” but possesses the “wisdom of a sage.” When Oldham sings, “spirit healer” it sounds like a song for the native Americans, saying “none of us … walk this path alone.” It gets a little global-minded Age of Aquarious hippy towards the end: “We are crying for a vision / That all living things can share / And those who care are with us everywhere.” So how does Oldham go with it? He starts out quietly, affecting that tone of concern, with subtly shifting gradations of emotion in his voice. The music is quiet at first, a few snippets of guitar here and there, a very slow beat, every four seconds or so. When Oldham gets to the line about there being no reason to be afraid, all the musicians join, and the song gets louder, fuller, with a male voice singing back up to Oldham. I have to say, I enjoyed it when the song was quieter. The song continues to increase in volume, affecting a poignancy through dynamics, faster drumming, churning guitar chords, then an interlude with what sounds to me like a Pink Floydian flight of fancy into ethereal guitar territory, notes soaring across the sky, trajectories and falling stars, but tastefully done. The song’s structure goes up from the thin end of a wedge, building in stages, then suddenly dies back to simplicity at the end. It’s quite good, but Wolf’s version is more affecting and more melodic.
Cornflower Blue… is from a live double album Wolf recorded in 1983. It’s a love song which begins as an observation of the blue of cornflowers, “tiny flowers that grew, from when our love had just begun.” Rachael H. has a low flat kind of voice. She asks, “How long has it taken, for the seeds of love to grow?” Thus the colour comes to symbolize this love, his eyes, the shirt he wore when she opened up the door. Cornflower blue is “deeper than the evening sky / Peaceful as a river / Bluer than goodbye / Blue like a diamond, when the light shines true.” How about that? She tells us at the end, “If love came in colours, then I’d choose this one for you.” The recording by Rainywood seems a little lower fi than Side One. In fact there are two voices singing the main lyric, a male and female. The music is bass and close mic’ed raw acoustic strum. The two voices work okay together. They seem to build an ennui into the rhythm that you don’t hear on Wolf’s version, as if the song might run out of steam at any moment. I do actually quite like their dreary harmonizing, it sort of works and sounds nice over top of that guitar, like early Palace material. The original never had a strong melody to begin with, so the song doesn’t exactly grab you, but Rainywood manage to keep it interesting with their woozy drawlish Southern accents. Still, one has to ask, if the song is a celebration of true blue love, why does the performance sound like they’re on their death beds?