Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, ‘Handle With Care’ – Terrible Classic Rock Covers
Jenny Lewis is one of the most talented female singer-songwriters out there in the indie rock world today. As the lead singer of Rilo Kiley, she found an adoring fan base; and when the band split, she went solo and put out this genuinely great (and well-received, critically) solo record, ‘Rabbit Fur Coat,’ with the Watson Twins (identical twin sisters singers). Everything on the debut was just fantastic — except for her cover of the Traveling Wilburys’ classic, ‘Handle With Care.’
For the cover, Lewis, who basically takes on the late George Harrison’s part (she doesn’t sing all of his verses), puts together a sort of a who’s who of the indie-rock world to take the place of the great Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and the late Roy Orbison. The fill-ins are Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, and solo artist M. Ward (who would later form She & Him with actress Zooey Deschanel).
First, the original. You really can’t beat the 12-string Rickenbacker guitar lick that frames the song, the driving backbeat — or the artists that each take a verse. The late George Harrison’s lead vocals in the verses are just timeless — as well as his perfect, two-part slide-guitar solo. And then there’s Orbison singing the call phrase — “I’m so tired of being lonely …” — and Lynne/Petty/Dylan doing the answer phrase. Sure, it’s a hokey song, but these guys are the best in the business, and covering a song like this takes some serious chutzpah.
Now, to the cover. Lewis’ version has the tempo sped up slightly, but overall, it just comes off a little flat — like when soda loses its fizz. Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard literally has to double his vocals to even come close to the sonorous power of Orbison’s part, and there’s no real soul to how his part matches with Lewis’ lead lines (it sounds pieced together on ProTools instead of live). Oberst and Ward — both great vocalists in their own right — sound surprisingly awkward in the context of the song, making for sort of a boozy, late-night karaoke version, instead of a respectable cover.
Listen to the Traveling Wilburys’ ‘Handle With Care’