Bria Plays with the Past on Fiery 'Cuntry Covers Vol. 2'

BY Ian GormelyPublished Feb 23, 2023

Over the past few decades, covers records have tended towards filler; stop-gap releases that let artists signal their street cred while keeping the content mill churning. Throughout pop music's history though, reinterpreting and rearranging established songs has been a well-worn path to success. That has held true longer in country music, where an artist's personal experience holds as much — if not more — value than authorship does. 

Intentional or not then, Bria Salmena's choice of country covers as a way to introduce herself as a solo artist fits in with a long musical lineage. Where Vol. 1 of Cuntry Covers stripped songs down to their musical and emotional core, Vol. 2 expands her sound while honing her formidable voice. 

The TL;DR on Vol. 2 — and its predecessor — is that it holds your attention on its own and doesn't make you want to ditch and go listen to the originals instead. That might sound like faint praise, but when reinterpreting material as well-worn as Loretta Lynn's classic feminist missive "Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)" or Paula Cole's Lilith Fair-core anthem "Where Have all the Cowboys Gone?" getting over listeners' Pavlovian responses is a major hurdle. 

Salmena's take on Gillian Welch's "I Dream a Highway" most closely recaptures the spare, haunting Twin Peaks by way of Scott Walker sound of her debut. But elsewhere, she and Duncan Hay Jennings — Salmena's bandmate from Toronto post-punks Frigs and Orville Peck's backing band — create more experimental soundscapes, adding flashes of Siouxsie and the Banshees' gothic nerve, Cocteau Twins' guitar textures and My Bloody Valentine's tremolo pulse. 

As their titles imply, there's some sly subversion at work with Bria's Cuntry Covers series. Where "Cuntry-fying" on Vol. 1 took aim at country's entrenched patriarchal ideologies, Vol. 2 feels more interested in challenging its musical conservatism. Salmena's fiery interpretation of "Don't Come Home a Drinkin'" taps into the anger and frustration of Lynn's words, while the subtle swing of Cole's original is brought to the fore, setting that famous lament squarely on the dance floor. 

Arguably though, its the least country-leaning song that brings all these elements together. The spare experimentation of "When You Know Why You're Happy," originally by fellow Torontonian Mary Margaret O'Hara, is the record's best showcase for Salmena's husky and evocative voice. Over a simple drum machine, guitar and a touch of saxophone, she echoes Toronto's most famous son, praising self-knowledge. She knows herself now and, hopefully, her audience does too. 
(Sub Pop)

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