Album Review

Jay Brannan, 'In Living Cover'

July 27, 2009

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Jay Brannan In Living Cover
Great Depression
ESSENTIAL “Drowning’’
Jay Brannan plays at the Paradise Rock Club Thursday with Caitlin Frame at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15, $12 advance at

Jay Brannan, a heart-on-sleeve singer-songwriter who first made a splash in John Cameron Mitchell’s film “Shortbus,’’ means well on his first collection of cover songs. Problem is, he doesn’t bring much of himself to the proceedings on “In Living Cover,’’ aside from a dead-serious delivery set against a spare folk backdrop. Much of Brannan’s own music sounds like these covers, but a few songs into “In Living Cover,’’ the album is in dire need of some color. Brannan culled his selections from audience favorites at his live shows, though notably absent is his amusing take on N.W.A’s rap staple “Straight Outta Compton’’ (which he admits he copied from Nina Gordon). Instead, he tackles beloved female folkies (Ani DiFranco’s “Both Hands,’’ Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want’’) and ‘90s alt-rock (the Verve Pipe’s “The Freshmen’’). A bloodless rendition of the Cranberries’ “Zombie’’ is a real head-scratcher: It’s neither tongue-in-cheek nor wholly convincing. Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind’’ is pretty much always an ill-advised choice at this point, though Brannan keeps it light and simple with just his voice and some basic percussion. It’s strange that the best song on this covers EP is an original Brannan wrote when he was 19. “Drowning’’ captures the desolation of teenage angst, and it’s heartening to hear him sound like himself and not someone else. (Out now) JAMES REED