By Matt Wickstrom
LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 22, 2018) – You’ve heard the songs, but you’ve never heard them like this. Reimagining some of the hottest music to emerge from the 1980s, bluegrass style no less, is Charlottesville, Va; based quintet Love Canon. For nearly a decade the group, comprised of Jesse Harper on guitar and lead vocals, Adam Larrabee on banjo, Andy Thacker on mandolin, Darrell Muller on standup bass and Jay Starling on resonator guitar has brought their blend of new-age nostalgia to the ears of reminiscing fans.
According to Starling, the group began as the result of an inside joke during a late night drive home from a gig between Larrabee and Harper. Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” came on the radio, to which Larrabee grabbed his mandolin and proceeded to pick and sing along. Harper suggested the idea of a bluegrass-inspired 80s cover band and the two ran with it, quickly recruiting Thacker, Muller and Starling.
Beginning primarily as a local Virginia project, Love Canon quickly gained steam and began touring extensively thanks to their signature spin on all-too-familiar tunes. With their success, the group has run into countless fans who’ve shared stories of how they’ve connected with their music in many different ways.
“People come up to me [at shows] and say ‘I don’t like bluegrass but I love the 80s. You guys are awesome,’ then there’s ‘I hate the 80s and love bluegrass and you guys are awesome,’ but my favorite is ‘I don’t like the 80s or bluegrass music, but you guys are awesome,” Starling said jokingly.
Whether people are drawn to Love Canon by the nostalgia of the songs or the perplexing bluegrass interpretation they’re presented in one thing is for certain—the group has people’s attention, including a number of Grammy award-winning musicians that joined them for their latest project Cover Story: A Journey Through Music’s Greatest Decade, out July 13. The album, recorded in Charlottesville at a private studio typically set aside for mastering Dave Matthews’ live recording, features an all-star supporting cast led by 31-time award winner and dobro legend Jerry Douglas, who for years played with Starling’s father John, a guitarist and founding member of The Seldom Scene. On Cover Story Douglas brings an electrifying solo to a mesmerizing performance of Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie Eleison,” one of the album’s top highlights. Other guests include Keller Williams, who takes the reign on lead vocals on R.E.M.’s “Driver 8;” Aoife O’Donovan’s angelic harmonizing paired with Michael Cleveland’s fiery fiddle on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and Erik Krasno for a cover of Squeeze’s “Tempted.”
Another of the album’s high points, an intimate cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill,” comes equipped with an original instrumental medley from Larrabee called “Icecaps of Pentatonia.” With the group long surpassing a goal of a hundred reinterpreted 80s tunes, Starling hinted that the next project the group undergoes could be one of all original instrumentals similar to “Icecaps.” However, while that may be the case, he also is quick to assure that the 80s music won’t be disappearing, saying that there’s many artists he’d still like to cover including Michael Jackson, Mike & The Mechanics and Oingo Boingo and more. Starling continued by adding that interesting chords and intriguing harmonizing opportunities are what drives the group’s song selection as it transforms into a full-fledged time capsule of the 1980s.
“My ears are always open, like when I have to go to the grocery store and hear an 80s tune I’ll think ‘we should do that,” said Starling.
At times the group has even delved outside the cozy neon and jazzercise confines of the 80s for a 90s flare, most recently being a cut from Cover Story in Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.”
“I think [the song] came out in 1990, but it was probably written in 1989,” Starling jokes. “We let it slide. We make the rules, so we’re allowed to break them a little.”
While many cover bands tend lean toward being filler acts, Love Canon is anything but, emerging from the crowd due to their adeptness to adaptation that has helped them to breathe new life into songs from long ago. Say what you want about the 80s—Love Canon makes a compelling argument for championing the decade as music’s greatest as they make the old new again, blazing their own path of success forward to the past.
View more killer photos from Love Canon’s 2018 ROMP Fest performance from Kim Blackburn below.
Cover Story Track Listing:
- Prelude (Angry Young Man) 2:22 [Billy Joel]
- Things Can Only Get Better 5:01 [Howard Jones]
- Kyrie Eleison 4:13 [Steven Park, John R Lang, Richard J Page]
- Graceland 5:56 [Paul Simon]
- Islands In The Stream 4:04 [Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, Robin Gibb]
- Enjoy The Silence 5:09 [Martin L Gore]
- Solsbury Hill / Icecaps Of Pentatonia – Medley 5:29 [Peter Gabriel]
- Tempted 5:21 [Christopher H Difford, Glenn M Tilbrook]
- Driver 8 6:37 [Peter Buck, Bill Berry]
- Alex Hargreaves – Fiddle – 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8
- Sam Wilson – Backing Vocals – 2
- Jerry Douglas – Dobro – 3Mike Barnett – Fiddle – 3, 9
- Michael Cleveland – Fiddle – 4
- Aoife O’Donovan – Vocals – 4
- John D’earth – Trumpet – 5
- Bobby Read – Tenor Sax – 5
- Lauren Balthrop – Vocals – 5
- Trey Pollard – String Arrangement – 6
- Colin Killalea – Nylon String Guitar and Backing Vocals – 6
- Mark Erelli – Lead Vocals – 7
- Erik Krasno – Lead and Backing Vocals and Electric Guitar Solo – 8
- Daniel Clarke – Wurlitzer Piano – 7
- Keller Williams – Lead Vocals – 9