Juliana Hatfield, "Next to You" (American Laundromat)
In the last couple of years, Juliana Hatfield has recorded full-length tributes to Olivia Newton-John and the Police. These decisions seem pretty random, and they make one think: What's next? Homages to Joan Armatrading and Ian Dury & the Blockheads? (I'd be okay with that, actually.) Regardless of what you think of her choices, Hatfield is a consummate pro in the vocal and guitar-playing departments, and she handles the material with golden-eared, indie-rock aptitude. Over the last 28 years with the Blake Babies and many other projects and on her own, she's proved herself extremely adept at interpreting other people's songs as well as writing her own melodious compositions that instantly insinuate themselves into your memory.
As someone who still spins Police songs in DJ sets ("When the World Is Running Down..." remains a floor-filler), I have a lot of time for Hatfield's own spin on their new-wave/Caucasoid-reggae hookiness. For Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police, she roams promiscuously through the English group's catalog, focusing on both radio staples ("Roxanne," "Every Breath You Take," "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da") and deeper cuts ("It's Alright for You," "Rehumanize Yourself"). I would've liked to see her tackle "No Time This Time" or "Walking on the Moon," but maybe next time.
Hatfield turns "Next to You"—a tight amphetamine burner off 1978's Outlandos D'Amour—into a sumptuous ballad. She really teases out the yearning ache at the core of Sting's songcraft, underpinning it with subtle drum-machine slaps and fuzzed-out guitar. It's a radical transformation that represents one of the best traits of a cover song: finding novel ways to make you appreciate a familiar tune.
Juliana Hatfield performs at the Tractor Tavern on Saturday, February 1. She'll also be performing live on KEXP today at 1 p.m. As is usually the case, it is free to attend, but space is extremely limited, you can only register for tickets beginning 90 minutes before the set, and you must do so in person. Good luck!