Cover Stories: “I Can’t Make You Love Me”

How about I skip the usual “aaah, I haven’t posted in a long time” nonsense and just skip to a new feature I’ve been meaning to debut? Yeah? Here we go.

I’m calling this one “Cover Stories”…every so often, I’ll highlight a well-known song, and share a few choice covers of said song. I’ve always been a huge fan of well-done cover songs–and thus they populate my iPod and listening habits quite heavily. And I’ll probably write about them a bit. And that’s pretty much it…if you guys have any suggestions of how I can spice this up, let me know, but hopefully the beauty lies in its simplicity. The first song? Let’s go with a gem originally by Bonnie Raitt…

“I Can’t Make You Love Me”

In case you haven’t heard it, its music video is embedded above. It’s an absolutely heartbreaking song about the end of a romance…but rather than being simply being something depressing and sad, it’s completely powerful and riveting. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia article about the song, explaining some of its early origins:

“The idea for the song came to Reid while reading an article about a man arrested for getting drunk and shooting at his girlfriend’s car. The judge asked him if he had learned anything, to which he replied, “I learned, Your Honor, that you can’t make a woman love you if she don’t.” Reid and Shamblin were both country music songwriters, who according to some accounts originally wrote the song as a fast, bluegrass number. Upon slowing down the tempo considerably, they realized the song gained considerable power. It then made its way to Raitt.”

Bonnie also reportedly recorded the song in just one take, saying that she couldn’t recapture the emotion in the song again in the studio.

With such a singular, almost magical song, how could any other artist add on it? Jazz vocalist Sophie Milman did just that, with an absolutely gorgeous take on the song on her most recent album, “Take Love Easy.” The arrangement is stunning, her vocal is passionate and beautiful, and a few terrific reharmonizations within the chords bring the song to even more life:

Another great cover I’ve heard of the song is from a somewhat unlikely source…a contestant on “American Idol.” And in this case, someone who in my opinion is one of the best the show has ever had…season 8’s Allison Iraheta. She injects the song with tons of raw fire, and almost an effortless-sounding sense of the emotional core of it all. Add to that the fact that at the time she performed this, she was only 16 years old, and prepare to be impressed. Her live performance is included here (the song starts about a minute in), and I suggest searching out the also-excellent full studio version by her as well:

Finally, here’s probably one of the most unconventional takes of the song I’ve heard…a version by indie artist Bon Iver (the stage name of Justin Vernon), performed on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” that mashes up a bit of the song with the classic Donny Hathaway tune “A Song For You,” and another Bonnie Raitt hit, “Nick of Time.” It’s something that seems like it wouldn’t work on paper…but thanks to the stark, lovely piano backing, and Justin’s committed, wonderfully unique vocal, it all clicks together very nicely. Here’s a studio version of that same cover:

So there we go. The test drive of the new Cover Stories feature is complete. Let me know your thoughts about it. I’ll see y’all soon with a new Artist Spotlight, on the amazing singer-songwriter Alyse Black. Thanks for reading!


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