When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week Madeleine Peyroux takes on Elliott Smith’s “Between The Bars.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
Elliott Smith’s “Between The Bars” is both a quiet testament to the ability of love to save us from ourselves and a crushing reminder that, despite love, our worse angels often have the final say. Before the songwriter allegedly took his own life on Oct. 21, 2003, Smith suffered no deficit of adoration or commitment from his friends and fans, yet he was in a near constant battle with himself. Money and success, even the approval of Hollywood, couldn’t alter the quality of Smith’s life, one that was haunted by chemical dependency, depression and frequent thoughts of (and infrequent attempts at) suicide. Yet Smith often wrote with a poignant compassion for others and even of his own ability to fall deeply for another. “Between The Bars” reminds me to take from love while it’s available, to respect the fact that its existence in any pure form is often tenuous and finite, especially when the person dispensing it struggles so deeply to love him/herself.
For her part, Madeleine Peyroux did a fantastic job of remaking the Smith classic into a dusty, evocative vocal jazz number that retains every bit of the original’s shaky optimism. Perhaps as a tribute, Peyroux recorded “Between The Bars” less than a year after Smith’s passing, including it on 2004’s Careless Love. That album was released eight years after Peyroux’s breakout debut, Dreamland, which, in the same way Smith was often compared to Nick Drake, garnered the songstress frequent nods to Billie Holiday.