When Sharon Van Etten’s second album, epic dropped in 2010, only a year after her debut, the response was surprisingly muted. Although critics noted the strength of its lyricism, composition and delivery most held back from praising the album as the masterpiece it was. Even now, with five records under her belt epic remains a cult favorite, an album that is almost no one’s entry point and few peoples preferred. Regardless, the album is an important one in Van Etten’s discography. It was her first album on a proper label, New York’s Ba Da Bing, her first album recorded with a full band, and arguably the first album to begin recruiting her fan base.
For the album’s tenth anniversary, a surprisingly disparate group of musicians have gotten together to cover each one of epic’s seven tracks for Ba Da Bing. The result is a great triumph, a living testament to the strength of these songs and the nature of the ongoing relationship between musicians and the art they create. Each track is straightforward in its delivery, but each nonetheless filtered through the guise of the musician covering it. IDLES provides a refined but brutally upfront spin on “Peace Signs”, Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner’s Big Red Machine take on “A Crime” and add a bombastic Spanish touch and Lucinda Williams brings “Save Yourself” to a devastating new level.
But coming off the landmark Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Fiona Apple’s contribution, “Love More” may have been the most hotly anticipated. Notably, Apple lends that light, percussive sound from her last album to a song that seemed impenetrably mournful in Van Etten’s hands. The track’s instrumentals cascade back and forth against multi-tracked harmonies, bringing the album to an almost celebratory conclusion. On “Love More” Apple evokes a sound so full and revelatory, that it transforms the once sparse track into one evoking the union that makes a compilation like this possible.
The strength of epic ten stems not just from the quality of the performances, but in the care that each artist put into their contribution. Like any great compilation, these songs are measured calculations at improving on the originals and creating an album the works as a succinct whole. epic remains Van Etten’s best album, but epic ten does its best at eliciting the awestruck reverence that countless musicians feel towards it.