Cuntry Covers Vol. 1 is the debut EP from the latest Sub Pop act, Bria, which is a collaborative act of Bria Salmena and Duncan Hay Jennings. As the EP’s potentially unpublishable-without-asterisks title may suggest, it contains six renditions of old country numbers, notably “Green Rocky Road”, “Dreaming My Dreams With You”, “Buffalo Ballet”, and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”,
The press release for the album states that “Bria hope the record will be understood as a small contribution to the subversion of a genre with deep patriarchal roots.” As some of these songs are traditional numbers, there have been variations on their lyrics over the years, but Bria themselves don’t alter the lyrics to these songs to emphasise their intent, almost as if presenting these somewhat antiquated songs without commentary or editorialisation to a modern audience alone will be enough to highlight their potentially problematic elements, and, who knows? maybe it will be, but, from the perspective of this tragically unsavvy and unintelligent reviewer, this record’s intended feminist concept would have gone unnoticed without the intent expressly stated in its press release.
This could be a failure of the artist to successfully convey this purpose, or it could be a failure of this reviewer as a listener to pick up on it. When the EP is released to the general public, the reception to this aspect will dictate that. Having relistened to the EP with the intent of examination with this new information, the best example of emphasising the subtle misogyny in the music of yesteryear was on the third verse of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”.
Not all of the songs on the EP are traditional. There are contemporary covers, such as John Cale’s “Buffalo Ballet” from 1974 and Lucinda Williams’ “Fruits of My Labor” from 2003, the latter being the first song written by a woman on the EP. The most obscure song on the EP, a cover of Mistress Mary’s “I Don’t Wanna Love Ya Now” from her 1969 album Housewife, takes the female agency established by the Williams cover and directly rejects any sexist and reactionary expectations of women, which serves as a fitting end to the EP.
The opening two tracks, “Green Rocky Road” and “Dreaming My Dreams With You”, both incorporate a country twang over the mellow and atmospheric indie-pop that Bria bring to the fore. This country undertow is then dropped for most of the EP until it is brought back again on the final song. When artists are covering songs, they shouldn’t have to be tethered to the style of music that the song was originally written for. In fact, putting your own spin on songs should be the point in covering them; if you’re just going to do a one-for-one cover of a song, then what’s the point?
It’s just strange to establish a motif at the beginning of your EP and then quickly abandon it. It should also be noted that the two opening songs were also the ones chosen from the EP to be released as a single, which may give people a certain expectation for the type of music on the EP that isn’t exactly followed up.
Cuntry Covers Vol. 1 is very well-produced, and Bria Salmena is an excellent and understated singer, whose voice perfectly accompanies the backing instrumentals and atmosphere. With six songs that clock in at approximately 21 minutes, Cuntry Covers is a short endeavour, and the Vol. 1 in the title hints at more to come.
The main issue is that none of the covers on the EP are residual enough to commit to memory, even after multiple listens. At the same time, they are all very well-done covers, with a sense of the act’s individual identity and expression, even if this reviewer felt that they failed at their intended subversion of aspects of the country genre. The covers of “Green Rocky Road” and “Buffalo Ballet” are the two best that the EP have to offer. Bria are a good act for Sub Pop to have signed and they will definitely be an interesting act to revisit if they begin releasing original material, but, until then, here’s to Vol. 2.