Stop me if you've already heard this one. In 2012, Def Leppard shook up the music industry by re-recording its catalogue of songs as a reaction to an ongoing battle over ownership with its record label. By recording the new versions (of its own songs), the band became the legitimate owner of the note-for-note reproductions and could freely distribute them as it so desired. There was no attempt to "modernize" the Def Leppard songs, and the recreations were blatantly made with commercial intentions.
Similarly, the producers of the television show, "Glee," have a notorious history of reproducing songs for the purpose of generating ratings and profit. However, the "Glee" versions do attempt to "modernize" a song according to an episode, using the character voices and adding choral arrangements, as well as a generous amount of auto-tuned sheen for that distinctly modern sound. In most cases, the producers of "Glee" made attempts to distinguish their versions from the originals, while still riding on the coattails, presumably under the pretension of commercial art.
And so here we have Trombone Shorty's cover version of The Meters' "Be My Lady," a shockingly identical recreation of the 1977 funk ballad. Perhaps it's not so shocking that the original members of The Meters play on this new version, going straight to the source in oder to recreate that legendary sound. However, Shorty provides the vocals and horns that stay true to the original, except for the trombone solo that replaces the original guitar/scat solo. But aside from these substitutions and slight edits to the song's arrangement, it remains unclear as to what the honest intention was behind Trombone Shorty's cover of "Be My Lady."
On his previous albums, Shorty has provided cover versions of other well-known songs. He offered up on his first album, Orleans & Claiborne, a jazz-rock take on Maroon 5's hit, "This Love." Shorty's second album, Backatown, featured a modernized version of Allen Toussaint's "On Your Way Down," which includes the renowned pianist playing on the recording. That tune has since become a staple in the live show and highlights the band's synchronicity through its modern arrangement. By adding a unique flavor to another musician's work, Trombone Shorty displays his artistic vision which has been recognized as a true progression of the art form.
This is why Shorty's traditional approach of "Be My Lady" is a step backward for his music. The purpose of art is to frame a new perspective on an idea, and to simply rebrand or repackage a pre-existing product is essentially like selling a fake Mona Lisa. Perhaps this version will give The Meters more exposure to a paint-by-numbers audience, and it may even generate more income for the aging musicians, but artifacts exist in order to tell a story, and it's a good story, while the artists exist to create the materials for a story, a story that is a work in progress.
So stop me if you've already heard this one.
Here is a YouTube video of last weekend's NOLA brass band battle. Not only does it feature Daft Punk for brass band, but also an all-female brass band. Enjoy!
Recommended reading: Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans by Matt Sakakeeny. Published by Duke University Press.