Juliana Hatfield Sings ELO
American Laundromat Records
Depending on what you count, indie stalwart Juliana Hatfield has released close to (or over) two dozen albums under her own name and with others in her 35+ year career. The same debate is true for her recent covers projects. Juliana Hatfield Sings ELO is technically her fourth covers record, not her third. It’s true she released Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton John in 2018 and Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police in 2019. However, she first released a covers record in 2012. That self-titled project covered 12 songs from 12 artists—including “Sweet Is the Night,” which kicks off Juliana Hatfield Sings ELO.
The 2012 version was gentler, with strummed acoustic guitar and more atmospherics than the first track off …Sings ELO. Juliana’s voice also sounded far away—like she was singing through a tunnel. Her latest version is more faithful to the original, yet still sparse, like the entire Juliana Hatfield Sings ELO album. Electric Light Orchestra were famous for their beautifully-constructed arrangements of catchy songs—especially in their heyday of the 1970s.
The 10 tracks from Juliana Hatfield Sings ELO feature none of the orchestra, strings, pianos, or layered fullness of the originals. No matter. Juliana Hatfield works decently within her limitations. She covers some of these gaps with vocal harmonies (like singing some of the string parts in “Showdown” and “Bluebird”). Some omissions remain. For example, none of the original funk elements of “Showdown” are in Juliana’s version. However, that doesn’t detract from the cover.
Guitars and keyboards faithfully create the basic structure of each song, which seamlessly blends all tracks into a cohesive project. While the record includes seven songs from the ‘70s—many of them hits&mdask;it also showcases three tracks from later years. ELO’s “From the End of the World” from 1981 and “Secret Messages” from 1983 feature jumpy ’80s-era synthesizers. Juliana’s versions keep the pep of the originals without the extra instrumentation. Juliana’s cover of “Can’t Get it Out of My Head,” for which she made a music video, starts with a single keyboard plaintively playing and electric guitar simply strumming the chords before both instruments join in the chorus. Juliana Hatfield Sings ELO ends with 2001’s “Ordinary Dream”, which is as wistful and longing as the original, again without the extra instrumentation and vocals, just like the rest of the album.