The Everly Brothers are everywhere: there are tribute albums by Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie “Prince” Billy (What The Brothers Sang) and The Chapin Sisters (A Date With The Everly Brothers), and you can hear them echo in new music by Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison, and The Wagoneers, whose upcoming album kicks off (at least my version of it does) with a song, “Where My Heart Used To Be,” that has the fingerprints of Don and Phil Everly all over it. There are songs on The Mavericks album In Time, like “Lies” and “Forgive Me,” that wouldn’t be out of place on a late-period Everlys record. They’re a building-block for what gets typed as “Americana” these days (especially the duet branch that includes The Civil Wars, Striking Matches, Gunnar and Scarlett on Nashville, and even some of She & Him). If Emmylou and Rodney’s Old Yellow Moon is a throwback to the music she made with Gram, and that music was rooted in the heartbreak-harmony that The Everly Brothers made in the late fifties through the mid-sixties, then where we stand is at a moment of reappraisal.
Was this where country-rock started, with “Bye Bye Love” and “I Wonder If I Care As Much,” the two sides of their first hit single in Cadence? (I’m not talking about country-inflected Sun rockabilly, a whole other thing.) Was 1958’s Songs Our Daddy Taught Us the first back-to-basics rock-era concept album? Did L.A. roots-pop music begin with 1968‘s Roots, the ambitious album where the Everlys threw Merle Haggard and Randy Newman (“Illinois,” below) into an exploration of how their music evolved. It came out just after The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo — and probably was recorded around the same time — and I think it’s every bit its equal; Gram might have brought Haggard and Jones into the room with The Byrds (“Life In Prison” and “You’re Still On My Mind”) but the Everlys grabbed arguably better Merle songs (“Mama Tried” and “Sing Me Back Home”) and turned Ray Price’s “You Done Me Wrong” into captivating pop.
You can say that bands like The Lumineers, Fleet Foxes, Mumford and Sons, et. al. are rediscovering and repositioning the softer, acoustic sides of The Dead, CS&N, Simon and Garfunkel, and then you’d have to mention that the Dead used to do “Wake Up Little Susie” live quite a bit, that Graham Nash injected Everly harmonies into The Hollies (and supplied them with material for the Two Yanks In England album), that Simon and Garfunkel’s musical alliance began when they tried to figure out how to sing “Hey Doll Baby” and came up with their own “Hey Schoolgirl” instead. So much goes back to The Everly Brothers, and although the adolescent subject of things like “Bird Dog,” “Problems” and “Poor Jenny” smack of the sock hop, the records jump and snap, and the singing is magic.
I’m sure I’m not the only pop-obsessed kid who heard “I Want To Hold Your Hand” on the radio for the first time and thought, they sort of sound like The Everly Brothers, who heard The Beach Boys singing “Devoted To You” on Beach Boys Party and thought, that sounds about right. So give them credit for all that, and blame them for the Eagles, if you like, because much of what they inspired — Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds with Gram and Gram with the Burritos and Gram with Emmylou on G.P. and Grievous Angel — set the stage for the slicked-up (ok, more commercial, let’s concede) efforts of the Asylum sound (one of Linda’s earliest pop breakthroughs was with Phil Everly’s “When Will I Be Loved,” and the Everly influence runs through Jackson Browne and JD Souther).
A Date With The Everly Brothers, which is completed and being funded through Kickstarter (jump right in: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chapinsisters/the-chapin-sisters-a-date-with-the-everly-brothers?ref=home_spotlight) has a lot of the hit songs on it, “Cathy’s Clown,” “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” “Till I Kissed You,” “When Will I Be Loved” (I’ve only heard “Crying In The Rain” so far, and it’s a beauty), while What The Brothers Sang is less classic-driven (it does have “So Sad” and “Devoted To You”), so you’re going to need them both. Dawn and Bonnie dig into the Warner Brothers years more than the first Cadence era, and finds rarities like “Empty Boxes” (by Ron Elliot of The Beau Brummels, who also wrote a couple of key tracks on Roots), Don’s “It’s All Over” and “Omaha,” and covers of covers the Brothers did, like “Somebody Help Me.” It takes a broad view of what the Everly Brothers were about, makes room for songs by John Denver and Kris Kristofferson, and gets to the streak of melancholy: even Goffin & King’s relatively sunshiny “Just What I Was Looking For” has a hint of darkness, and when you get to tracks like “So Sad” and especially “What Am I Living For,” taken at a mournful pace, it’s ideal music for wallowing. Like this out-of-season outtake: