“I said I’ve heard about it, but I haven’t heard it.”
That line from Mark Berube’s “Barber Shop” sums up my relationship with Radiogram. For years I’ve been around their music, hearing snippets and chatter (hell, I’ve even raised glasses with the lead songwriter on countless occasions), but never truly embraced the melodies and dust bowl textures on my own.
Not surprisingly, the band’s subsequent side projects have also gone undiscovered. Righting that wrong, I stumbled on a covers LP from Radiogram’s pedal/trombone player Jonathan Anderson and his presentation of a few of my favorite songs was enough to prompt a journey through the Jonathan Inc. back catalog.
The Greatest Songs I Never Wrote might seem like a bit of a closet cleaning exercise, but Jonathan puts his heart and soul into a collection of songs that affected him personally. The liner notes tell the bigger story for each choice, but as Anderson revisits institutions like The Inbreds, The Magnetic Fields, The Sundays and Sarah Harmer, you can tell he respects the originals enough to try to put his stamp on the song.
I absolutely love the heftier version of The Innocence Mission’s “The Lakes of Canada” but for most music lovers, the most immediate are probably Jonathan’s take on “Born on a Train” and the reimaging of “Drag Us Down.” The former is an often covered song (Anderson certainly holds his own), but on the latter he replaces the punch and harmonies O’Neill and Ullrich were known for with a more tender sound. The results will stop you in your tracks.
I’ve never met Jonathan and certainly wasn’t familiar with his previous work, but after sitting through these songs, the songs that mean something to him, I feel like I know something about him. It’s not much, maybe just enough to enter the conversation, but it’s a start. And that’s what these kind of records are all about.