You know what’s embarrassing? Reviewing a cover album when you’re not familiar with any of the original songs. That’s where I find myself with the new release from Justin McRoberts, Through Songs I Was First Undone. I believe that makes me a musical dork.
Justin picks a wide range of songs from The Rolling Stones to Tom Waits to Nine Inch Nails (unfamiliar with the ‘Stones? Yep, musical dork.). He makes them his own, like any good cover project needs to, but you can still feel some of the original artist coming through (I could easily pick out the Nine Inch Nails and George Michael songs).
The best songs on the album are perhaps the most intimate ones, “Gerogia Lee” (by Tom Waits) and “Head Like a Hole” (by Nine Inch Nails). Both songs are honest explorations of truth, the kind of thing Justin is good at. It also might help that I’ve read Justin’s blog posts about both songs (Georgia Lee: Part 1, Part 2; Head Like a Hole: Part 1, Part 2).
Perhaps my favorite part of the album was the bonus tracks you get for buying the album, which included a cover of U2’s “First Time.” Now there’s an original I’m familiar with! A lot of people rightly think it’s sacrilege to cover U2, but when it’s done well I appreciate a good U2 cover. They’re perhaps never as good as the original, but when you start with such good material you end up with something pretty good. That’s the case with Justin’s cover.