The Civil Wars
Listen and download the MP3 at the Daytrotter website.
There are a lot of great reasons to love cover songs. There's the nostalgia of hearing a song you love again, but from a place you weren't expecting. Its cool to hear someone you dig (or don't dig actually) sing a song from someone else you dig (or maybe one you don't.) There's also the irony of covering a cheesy pop song in a serious way. A great cover song can take the original and create something totally new out of it. Of course a bad cover song is something close to the very definition of terrible.
The Civil Wars cover of the Smashing Pumpkins "Disarm" is sublime. The original was Billy Corgan's attempt to soften the Pumpkins in the middle of their very loud second album, Siamese Dream. Its all gentle strumming guitars and string counter-pointed by Corgan's rough vocals. Its not my go-to song for a Pumpkins fix, nor is it anywhere near what you would call their characteristic sound, but its a very good song none-the-less. The Civil Wars don't exactly deconstruct it - the basic structure of the song is still there - but they do take an already soft song and make it Angel Soft.
The blending of Joy Williams and John Paul White's vocals is simply gorgeous. They way they strip an already fairly bare song down to its core really opens the songs essence up. The original is a ballad, but there is power to it - a rough edge - but here it is opened up, exposed and completely vulnerable.
I won't say its better than the original but it is different, and interesting enough to make me put it into rotation right along side the Smashing Pumpkins cut.