Hafdís Huld | Variations (new album)
In a recent social media post announcing the official release of her new cover album Variations, Icelandic singer-songwriter Hafdís Huld writes, "I would love Dolly Parton to hear it so if anyone here is meeting her for a cup of tea later I would appreciate if you play it to her." If you're reading this and you know Dolly, then consider these your marching orders. Dolly is one of Hafdís' biggest musical idols - in fact, one of her songs ("Homemade Lemonade" from her 2009 Synchronised Swimmers album) contains a Dolly reference in its lyrics, and would have made a great duet with the country music icon. From our Q&A with Hafdís a few years back, we do at least know that Dolly has heard of this Icelandic songstress.
Taking a departure from albums of original material, Hafdís decided to record an album of stripped down cover versions of her favorite songs in her home studio with partner and producer Alisdair Wright. Entitled Variations, Hafdís notes, "It contains new interpretations of some of my favourite songs by other people. It's been a lot of fun re-discovering so many songs that I've loved over the years and putting a 'Hafdís twist' on them."
The album title is spot on, as there are such variations among the musical styles of the original artists and songs that are re-interpreted. The album contains 13 tracks that cover the following musicians: Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston, Freddie Mercury, Neil Hannon, Barry White, Tina Turner, Roberta Flack, Eurythmics, Boo Hewerdine, Berlin, Haddaway, The Real Thing, and Loudon Wainwright III. I'm sure you're dying to hear some of Hafdís' cover versions after reading that list! While there is a broad array of styles among the original songs, Hafdís' unique, clever interpretations are nicely done, resulting in a cohesive sound and style throughout the album. I'm generally cautious about cover albums, but this one stands out and is a must listen.
My favorite tracks are the ones that I would have thought would be unlikely covers (for anyone really), but that sound so unique and fresh with Hafdís at the wheel. Opening track "The Bargain Store" (Dolly Parton) is a natural and appropriate start to this nostalgic musical journey. I'm sure Dolly would be impressed hearing Hafdís' true-to-original interpretation of this country classic. On Freddie Mercury's "I Want to Break Free", Hafdís presents a beautiful and touching, piano and strings re-interpretation that highlights the emotion and melody that's always lived deep within the charged and upbeat original version. The same applies to Eurythmics "Here Comes The Rain Again", replacing the synthesizers and drum machines with electric guitar and drums, along with Hafdís' sweet, yearning vocals that bring home the true emotional depth of this beautiful melody. Before hearing it, I couldn't even imagine how someone might put a new spin on Haddaway's 90's danceclub floorfiller "What Is Love." Hafdís' take on this song is original, surprising and well done! No dancing or drum machines on this ... just a stunning and unique re-interpretation of a song that nearly everyone recognizes.
Go and listen to Variations if you haven't done so already - you won't be disappointed! If you've fallen in love with Hafdís' interpretations and want just a bit more, head over to YouTube and search for her fun, live cover of Beyoncé's "Single Ladies." Definitely worth a watch.