Billie Joe & Norah Jones Tribute The Everlys in “Foreverly”
When you first heard that Billie Joe Armstrong of the arena punk band Green Day and darling little lounge singer Norah Jones were teaming up to make an Everly Brothers tribute album of all things, you wondered if this was some drunken dare taken way too far. At the same time, there was something about the idea that seemed just insane enough to make some strange bit of sense.
Whatever you think this album is going to be, whatever you think in your little music brain it will sound like as you squint and try to envision Billie Joe, Norah Jones, and the Everly Brothers sharing the same 3-bedroom apartment, you’re probably wrong. For starters, you’re not going to get any of the noted Everly Brothers hits. No “Bye Bye Love,” no “Wake Up Little Susie,” no “Bird Dog,” “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” or other recognizable Everly Brothers standards. Foreverly is not a tribute album in the traditional sense, it is a reboot of a specific album, a reinterpretation of the 1958 Everly Brothers’ Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, song by song, line by line, with virtually the same track list, ratcheting up the strange factor yet another notch.
What this results in of all things is a stripped-down, old-time, primitive country record, referring back to the Ralph Peer era in country music; very rootsy, with murder ballads and Gothic American textures, and traditional, folksy themes and compositions.
During the height of their success in 1958, brothers Phil and Don Everly decided to make what today might be considered a concept album, taking traditional songs the brothers were taught by their father and assembling them on one record. Though the brothers were known for taking country songs and giving them a rock and roll twist, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us was very traditional and straight laced. No big hits came from the album, but it was seen as very forward and innovative at the time. Call it the Everly Brothers’ contribution to the brewing folk revival in American music in the late 1950’s.
Enter Billy Joe Armstrong in 2013, who it might not be surprising to hear is an Everly Brothers fan because of what building blocks for rock and roll the Everlys were, but it’s a bit curious of how he got so endeared with this particular album, and then lassoed Norah Jones of all people to be a part of it. Apparently Billy Joe thought more attention deserved to be paid to Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, and feeling a female voice would be an easier fit for the close harmony style of the Everlys (and finding Norah through mutual friend Stevie Wonder), Forevely was born.
The focus of Foreverly is the close harmonies struck by Billie Joe and Norah, and the chemistry this harmonization conjures, giving classic tunes from the early chapters of the American songbook new vitality. In a sense, the music has little to do with the Everly Brothers aside from the duo being the vehicle for this particular collection of traditional tunes to be assembled, and how the vocals are arranged. The collection includes traditional songs like “Roving Gambler,” “Down In The Willow Garden,” and “Barbara Allen,” with only the final track, the traditional “Put My Little Shoes Away” adapted by the Everlys.
The production of Foreverly, just like its 50’s counterpart, is very subdued, accentuating the vocal performances and the primitive, and sometimes dark themes of these classic tunes. About the only difference between the Everly Brothers’ Songs Our Daddy Taught Us and Foreverly is the 55 years of recording technology that brings more clarity to the newer performances. But the instrumentation is mostly simple acoustic arrangements, piano, maybe some simple brush drums, with about the only exception on Foreverly being the track “Kentucky” where tasteful electric guitar makes an appearance in an arrangement that probably takes the most liberties compared to the Everlys’ original.
The more you study this project and the Everly Brothers’ original Songs That Daddy Taught Us, the more the music intrigues you. Though Norah Jones is given equal billing on the cover, this is Billie Joe’s baby from a behind-the-scenes standpoint.
Both Billie Joe and Norah sit in this weird reality of public sentiment as wildly-successful artists who are not pop in the normal sense, but have made successful careers instilling sensibilities in what is supposed to be music on the fringes of popularity. Simply their names will leave some on the sidelines of Foreverly, which really isn’t fair to either the artists or the music. Billie Joe Armstrong is seen as the ultimate sellout by hardcore punks, but when the Green Day album Kerplunk sold 500,000 copies on a tiny indie label in Oakland, the band have no choice but to enlist the services of the recording industry. Similarly, Norah Jones is discounted for her success, while the quality of her music gets lost in the shuffle.
Foreverly is one of these albums meant to be listened to for the appreciation of the artistry, subtly, and texture, and when approached in that manner, or in the manner of trying to ignite renewed interest in the Everly’s contributions to American music, it is a very successful endeavor. If approached as something to listen to while raging through your daily commute, it is going to comes across as dry and sleepy because there’s just not a lot of pep or spice in this album. But kudos to Billie Joe for putting such heart into this music, and Norah for blending so sublimely, and bringing a cool little piece of American music history back to life.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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November 27, 2013 @ 9:31 am
I enjoyed the song in this post. I might have to check this out.
November 27, 2013 @ 9:33 am
I was so pleasantly surprised by this project. Sometimes seemingly incompatible ingredients make a wonderful meal.
Thanks for the review!
November 27, 2013 @ 9:49 am
Don’t knock chicken and waffles until you’ve tried it!
November 28, 2013 @ 12:48 pm
Based on this review, I’m going to pick this album up.
The Bottle Rockets just did a re-release of their first two albums, Uncle Tupelo and Steve Earl make guest appearances.
Please give it a spin.
November 28, 2013 @ 5:28 pm
Got my copy of the Bottle Rockets reissue package . Bought it mainly for the the first album, which hasn’t been available. It’s worth it just for that and the extras. The second album (The Brooklyn Side) is a stone classic.
Hope to see them open for and then back Marshall Crenshaw at the end of January. Just a great American rock and roll band.
November 28, 2013 @ 6:28 pm
IMO the BRox are top 3 in the outlaw genre.
I use them as a litnus test for people when deciding if we could be friends, if you don’t like them, I doubt we have much in common.
November 27, 2013 @ 9:42 am
From the two songs I’ve heard I’m pretty impressed. I’m really surprised they didn’t put more rock in it. It’s sad that these two released a more country album than most every person on the country top 20 (I say most because I have no idea who’s in the top 20 right now lol).
November 27, 2013 @ 9:51 am
It shows a lot of restraint and respect to simply reinterpret songs as close as possible to the originals. Though it doesn’t result in something entirely new, this approach is refreshing.
November 27, 2013 @ 5:09 pm
Check out …
Noam Pikelny – 2013 – Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe
which is a song for song remake of the bluegrass classic
Kenny Baker – 1977 – Plays Bill Monroe
which is a album of covers songs from Bill Monroe.
With Bill Monroe joining in the session.
November 27, 2013 @ 9:46 am
hmm. I had been seeing this cover popping up here and there and always thought things along the lines of: “Okay, what kind of stupidness is this??”, and then ignoring it. Maybe I’ll give it a shot though, it sounds like it might be more interesting than I was expecting.
November 27, 2013 @ 10:01 am
I was not expecting that. Norah Jones has always annoyed the hell out of me and I think Billie Joe and Green Day are good at what they do, but I would never think he could actually put something out like this. It’s not just not bad. It’s actually pretty good
November 27, 2013 @ 10:21 am
I’m the exact opposite of you. I’ve always loved Norah Jones and don’t quite get why people give her such a hard time. All she did was release one of the hugest debut pop albums of all time, WITH A HANK WILLIAMS COVER. Then she featured Dolly on her follow up. She’s dueted with Willie three times. Outside of that, she’s been on Ryan Adams and Mike Patton albums. I’m not sure what more you can expect from a jazz-pop star.
On the other hand, I can stand Green Day. They’ve always felt so forced to me. Billie Joe seems more insufferable than Bono.
My first impressions are that this is an odd, kind-of-awesome, but ultimately kind-of-boring album. Much better than you’d think.
November 27, 2013 @ 10:30 am
That last sentence pretty much sums up how I feel about it. A really cool project for these artists to embrace, but long-term I’m a little worried of it holding people’s attention beyond a few listens. That’s why I graded it as I did, though there’s still much more to be positive than negative about.
November 27, 2013 @ 11:41 am
This one arrived a couple of days ago and got its obligatory spin. Three songs stood out for a second listen: “Roving Gambler”, “Silver Haired Daddy of Mine” and “I’m Here to Get my Baby out of Jail”. This is now my 8th version of “Roving Gambler”, so even though this is a very good version, (and Charlie Burnham’s Harmonica is definitely worth hearing) I probably wont play it very often. It’s a keeper, but second tier.
Arlo Guthrie’s live version, which features Arlo’s voice and minimal acoustic guitar captures the essence of this song in a way the more complex arrangements obscure. It is a lonesome, “morning after”, sad song full of regret. (Doc Watson and Ramblin Jack Elliot do excellent folk versions, bluegrass versions by Peter Rowan, Country Gentlemen and JD Crowe add different dimensions to the song).
I’m still evaluating the other two so I wont opinionate on them except to say they were good enough for me to mark them on my “Listen Again” list.
November 27, 2013 @ 11:49 am
I liked Green Day’s early punk albums, but I never really listened to Norah Jones. With that being said, after listening to the sample, this is the best way if an artist ever wants to “go country”. I approve.
Bigfoot is Real (and doesn't have a lot to do at work)
November 27, 2013 @ 11:57 am
Absolutely spot on review. First time I heard “Long Time Gone” on my car radio I was amazed how “Everly” it sounded. And as you point out they steered away from making a Everly Bros greatist hits thing and dug deep into the Bros catalog to focus on gems that aren’t well known. Obviously so much respect and love for the music the Everly Brothers created.
(As a side note: The Gibson Billie Joe model acoustic guitar is nearly the same as the Everly Brothers model that daddy Ike created for them from back in the day. I imagine Billie Joe has been a fan for a long time.)
November 27, 2013 @ 1:10 pm
I’ve always thought Norah was a country singer disguised as jazz/pop. She’s always said she’s been hugely influenced by the genre and you can hear strong elements of country in her music. Not a fan of Green day though but I might check this out.
November 27, 2013 @ 1:57 pm
Norah Jones is involved with a country band called “The Little Willies” that’s pretty decent. Their cover of “Gotta Get Drunk” is my favorite and what turned me on to the band in the first place.
November 27, 2013 @ 4:47 pm
If you like Willie Nelson and the cover of that song, check out ‘To Willie’ by Phosphorescent. It’s an amazing tribute album to Willie that I love.
November 27, 2013 @ 6:20 pm
That is a great album!
November 30, 2013 @ 9:58 am
I’ll check it out, thanks!
November 27, 2013 @ 3:30 pm
I agree this album is good in its intention but kind of boring. Both norah and billy joe come to the project with a lot of respect to the original album and production but truth be told ‘songs our daddy taught us’ to me is kind of a boring album to start with.
In the same vein but with more originality i would pick up john paul keith’s side project Motel Mirrors instead.
November 27, 2013 @ 4:13 pm
Green Day is a rock band, but they can definitely make a fantastic acoustic song. Here’s one of the best pop songs of the 90s:
November 27, 2013 @ 4:43 pm
I’ve been waiting for you to review this album, Trig. My whiff on the Chris Shiflett project kept me quiet.
One thing you didn’t mention in your great review was Billie Joe’s recent stint in rehab. From what I understand, it’s during that dark time of reflection that he got the idea of the reboot while listening to Everly Brother’s albums (on vinyl nonetheless). Remember the days when our heroes went to rehab and came out artistically recharged?
The choice of Norah Jones was perfect. I want to not like the all-econcompassing vixen, but she makes it so hard! Every year she puts out music more country than the country female acts we are stuck with. Check out Jones’ contribution, “If the Law Don’t Want You,” on the Mary Karr and Rodney Crowell’s KIN project. It’s by far the best track on the album. Which makes me wonder, if the CMA is having trouble filling out their Female Vocalist of the Year nomination roster, wouldn’t Jones make a better choice than Kelly Clarkson?
The album is sleepy and in one sitting can be boring, but I love the idea of how the project developed. However, it makes me wonder (and angry) why no “country” artists couldn’t have thought of this project. Will we have to wait for Katy Perry and Nick Jonas to reboot a Conway Twitty/ Loretta Lynn album?
November 27, 2013 @ 4:44 pm
It’s quite good, but a little boring. Though, I will definitely give this one another listen.
November 27, 2013 @ 5:01 pm
The song is very good, but there is something missing in the vocals. An Appalachian-style song like this could have used some twangy vocal vibration. It would be great if the Church Sisters do a cover of this song:
November 27, 2013 @ 6:16 pm
I wouldn’t say I’m a big fan of either artist, but I’ve liked some stuff by both (especially Norah’s albums with The Little Willies), so I streamed this album last week on Amazon. It may not be particularly exciting stuff (though it *did* inspire me to look up the Everlys’ original on Grooveshark and check it out!); still, I thought the pair had surprisingly sweet harmonies. 🙂
November 27, 2013 @ 6:19 pm
Yeah, I quite like this whole album. I can see why a lot of people are calling it “boring”, though I tend to think of it as more “mellow” or “sleepy” maybe. It’s something that if I am in the right mood, I could really enjoy.
November 27, 2013 @ 6:32 pm
Wow, I never knew about the “Songs Our Daddy Taught Us” LP.
Of course, I’ve always seen the Everlys as descending from the close harmony tradition of groups like the Louvins and Blue Sky Boys, etc, albeit in a more pop context. It’s great to know they recorded some more traditional material.
I also reccomend “Roots,” the country rock album they did.
November 27, 2013 @ 6:44 pm
I forgot to mention, this article caused me to look up “Ralph Peer” on Wikipedia.
November 27, 2013 @ 8:06 pm
You should check out merle haggards record ‘the peer Sessions’ from about 10 years ago. It’s really good.
November 28, 2013 @ 11:55 am
I just looked it up… it looks great, thanks!
November 27, 2013 @ 8:40 pm
I’ve been waiting for you to review this album. I’ve always loved Norah Jones and my sons are huge Green Day fans. I was surprised to see this collaboration but after listening to the album I’m sold. Such a breath of fresh air compared to the other “pop country” stuff out there. I agree with your review.
November 27, 2013 @ 10:40 pm
I gained a lot of respect for Billie Joe while attending the Dreamforce Gala concert in San Francisco last week. It was pouring rain and about 5 songs into their act, the PA system went out. Instead of just walking off the stage, he got the entire crowd singing his better known songs acapella for about 30 minutes until the PA system came back on. The guy is a pro and has been doing this a long time. At age 40, I’ll give him the liberty to try something new. Plus, it’s better than most of what I hear on country radio.
Ranx Ze Vox
November 28, 2013 @ 2:16 pm
Great great record ! I listen it right now.
November 29, 2013 @ 2:08 pm
I just don’t want the Jamie Lynn Spears article to have more comments than this one! To tell you the truth, I didn’t read it and won’t. I tend to ignore things I just want to go away.
December 2, 2013 @ 11:46 am
“Enter Billy Joe Armstrong in 2013, who it might not be surprising to hear is an Everly Brothers fan because of what building blocks for rock and roll the Everlys were, but it”™s a bit curious of how he got so endeared with this particular album…”
If you listen to the NPR interview, Billy Joe and Norah have Oklahoma roots. Also, they grew up listening to the Everly Bros (grandparents/parents)….
December 22, 2013 @ 7:18 am
Excuse my awkward English. Hope this album will introduce young listeners to the long time gone Don and Phil Everly.
Please go down under section “Nouvelles, etc.” of my website, and find an article written by me (in a very passable English) on the Everly Brothers in a kind of back country Quebec Heartbreak Hotel in 1966. Very moving. My then little sweetheart was in tears.