Talented trio the New Standards take a great idea and, regrettably, go way over the top with it. Sunday Morning Coming Down is an album of eclectic covers, including the eponymous Kris Kristofferson classic, Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush,” Harry Nilsson’s “One,” and Tom Waits’ “You’re Innocent When You Dream,” totaling 12 in all.
The first-rate musicianship required for such an undertaking undeniably is there. Chan Poling is a fine pianist and above-average singer. John Munson plays pretty good bass and sings well. Steve Roehm does fine on vibes and percussion. All of which makes it all the more glaring that their interpretations, more often than not, come off as slickly contrived. The title cut, in an attempt to showcase inventive artistic license, flat-out does not work. It turns the old bare bones, down-and-out ballad into something so superficial and glossy—including a schmaltzy, Perry-Como-style lead vocal—you wonder when a full orchestra, complete with ooh-and-aah choral singers, is going to come in. “This Must Be the Place,” an entirely different sort of song, gets the same treatment. It goes from David Byrne’s splendidly quirky angst to saccharine sweetness that just doesn’t fit.
It certainly isn’t that these guys don’t know what they’re doing. You don’t get as good as they are on their instruments by accident. The problem is that they get in their own way. Had they simply applied a judicious interpretive touch, instead of pushing things so overboard, this probably would have amounted to an excellent outing.
As it is, the beautifully executed exception is the group’s fresh reading of the ancient Beatles hit “And I Love Her.” It stays close enough to the original not to be stilted and puts such a remarkable arrangement on the song that, sacrilegious as it is to say, it actually improves on the original. Similarly, “One,” whether you like Nilsson’s or the Three Dog Night rendition, stands up well in comparison to both. It gets an exquisitely tasteful, jazzy treatment, with a soulful vocal that stops the whole show on a dime. It captures exactly what making a successful cover is about—giving the listener a chance to enjoy the original in a new light. In the main, though, the New Standards with Sunday Morning Coming Down try way too hard to show you how innovative they can be.