As the story goes, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong was a big fan of the country duo known as the Everly Brothers, particularly their 1958 album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. He was so into the album, in fact, that he decided he wanted to cover it. But he wanted to do it as a duo, since the Everly Brothers were a duo, and he thought that he should find a female singer to do it with him, to give it an interesting spin. Armstrong’s wife remembered that he’d played with Norah Jones — they’d jammed with Stevie Wonder together– and so she suggested her. Armstrong gave Jones a call and she was in.
When Norah Jones debuted in 2002 with Come Away With Me her sound was a perfect blend of jazz and pop with a bit of folk and old school country. On her next two albums, 2004’s Feels Like Home and 2007’s Not Too Late, she veered even more in the country and folk direction, though her next two albums, 2009’s The Fall and 2012’s Little Broken Hearts, found her leaning more in the pop direction. Suffice to say that covering an Everly Brothers album wasn’t the craziest thing Norah Jones could do. In fact, you could say that she was further exploring her country roots. She’d previously covered country artists like Hank Williams and John D. Loudermilk, so why not the Everly Brothers? Well, perhaps she should have decided against it because the person who came up with the idea, who’d also be singing on the record, was Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. Because, really, what had Green Day ever done that would give you the impression that Armstrong could do an album of country covers? Sure, Green Day had some hit ballads, but they were still a mix of pop, rock and punk, certainly not country. Nothing we’d ever heard Armstrong sing would give you the impression that he could sing old country tunes. Still, again, Norah Jones was in.
Well, it turns out that Armstrong can sing old country songs. And quite well. If someone played you this album and asked you who you thought it was, you would never guess Billie Joe Armstrong. No way. His usual punky voice is absent throughout the majority of this album.
Interestingly, Armstrong and Jones sing most of the album together, rarely singing alone. And their chemistry is fantastic, their voices melding together beautifully as they harmonize perfectly. Well, OK, there are notes that Jones hits that Armstrong doesn’t hit, but that doesn’t subtract anything from the songs.
The instrumentation of Foreverly is entirely natural. There’s no electro-tinkering or auto-tune or anything of that sort here. The music is organic, made by guitars (mostly acoustic), piano, bass, violin, harmonica and drums. To that end, Armstrong and Jones both play guitar and piano on the album and the combination of the music and their vocals is like magic, not only bringing the album to life but making it shine.
From up-tempo, energetic numbers like “Roving Gambler” and “Long Time Gone” to sweet ballads like “Lightning Express” and “Who’s Gonna Show Your Pretty Little Feet,” Armstrong and Jones sing together and consistently knock it out of the proverbial park. But they do sing solo occasionally. Armstrong sings most of “Barbara Allen” solo, though it’s the least appealing track on the album because his Green Day voice does rear its head on this one. (Oddly enough, the way he sings it almost makes it sound like a traditional Irish song.) Jones sings most of “I’m Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail” solo and the result is the album’s most touching song, especially since the lyrics tell a story and it’s a pretty sad one.
Ultimately, Foreverly is a fitting tribute to a long forgotten album chock full of classic country tunes that deserve to be heard. If Armstrong and Jones covering this album gets people to hear these songs, then they’ve won. I don’t think they’re expecting this album to sell millions of copies or get on the radio. I think they’re just hoping that their fans will check it out and fall in love with the songs. And that, perhaps, some people will even get curious enough to track down the original album. As for fans of the original album, I think they’ve truly done those songs justice here and wouldn’t be surprised if fans of the original album were fond of this cover version. My father is an Everly Brothers fan and I’m going to get him this album for Christmas.