British pop singer Marianne Faithfull is probably still best known for her connection to The Rolling Stones back in the '60s, when she had a hit with their song "As Tears Go By" and was part of their notorious entourage. After many years struggling with addiction, Faithfull has been reborn as a raw, idiosyncratic singer. And, as her new set of covers proves, she still has a way with other people's songs.
Despite a constant flood of new music, people still like to insist it was all better in the '60s or the '80s or whenever. But Faithfull, who has survived a bunch of musical decades, recognizes that right now is a golden era of its own. Her new record, Easy Come Easy Go, is all covers, but alongside old standards are what might be some new ones. My favorite song from Neko Case's 2006 album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is called "Hold On, Hold On"; Faithfull's version here, with her scorched-earth vocals, may be even more poignant than the original.
The song selection here, like any good covers collection, plays to the singer's personality and history. And Faithfull had help from producer Hal Willner, a longtime master of matching singers with songs. It wasn't until I heard Faithfull's cover of "The Crane Wife 3" by The Decemberists that I realized that group's entire songbook would probably sound great sung by a British woman of a certain age — especially with harmonies by Nick Cave, who joins in here.
The material on Easy Come, Easy Go isn't all so recent. Besides songs by Morrissey and the experimental folk group Espers, there's a haunting reading of Billie Holiday's "Solitude" and a dreamy version of Smokey Robinson's "Ooh Baby Baby," sung with the androgynous cabaret singer Antony Hegarty. But my favorite of the older standards is the version of Merle Haggard's "Sing Me Back Home." It's set in prison's death row, and Faithfull's ravaged vocals get even more ravaged backup from Keith Richards, her Rolling Stones partner in crime so many years ago. It's a great example of how a great interpreter can make the song's truth her own, no matter when the song was written, or what its literal meaning is.