By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Colin Meloy, the Anglophile frontman for indie rock darlings The Decemberists, hardly tops the list of the people you'd expect to hear singing Sam Cooke. After all, the wordy, bespectacled and talented songwriter is known more for his affected accent and stylistic wardrobe than for his soulfulness. Basically, you can find this guy in the dictionary under the entry for "white."
Funny thing is, Meloy doesn't see it that way.
"I don't think ethnicity has anything to do with it," says Meloy, speaking from his home in Seattle while preparing for his solo tour. "My voice doesn't have Cooke's range, but whose does?"
The soon to be released Colin Meloy Sings Sam Cooke EP is the third in a series of solo projects Meloy has devoted to covers. The first featured the songs of Morrissey, the second focused on those of Shirley Collins. Meloy wanted the third installment to be more representative of his home country. He thought about covering songwriters closer to his indie roots, such as Paul Westerberg or Bob Mould but liked the idea of throwing a significant curve ball.
"I wanted to defy expectations," Meloy says, "and the first EPs focused on Brits. I couldn't think of another singer who is more uniquely American than Sam Cooke.
"And I think I do a decent version of 'Cupid.'"
Songs from all three EPs will appear on yet another impending release, Colin Meloy Sings Live!
"There will be some Decemberists songs on that one," Meloy says of the full-length, live CD. "A few unexpected covers as well."
Besides his solo work, Meloy has kept busy writing about music. He recently penned a 100-page book on the Replacements' fourth album, Let It Be. Mostly, he's just glad his master's degree in creative writing is being put to some other use than his own lyric writing.
"Of course, every time I send in a payment for my student loans, I wonder if the degree was worth it," Meloy says. But judging by the remarkable consistency of Meloy's work, in and out of the Decemberists, it would be safe to say that the degree has paid off.
In addition to his other projects, Meloy says a new effort from The Decemberists is already in the works. On that disc, Meloy says listeners can expect to hear a continuation of the experimentation of The Crane Wife, a record Meloy admits was influenced by the infamous progressive rock trio Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Yet Meloy seems bored when discussing his critically acclaimed band and happiest when talking about the solo efforts. And, on this tour, he's embracing that change of pace.
"The experience," Meloy says, "is more intimate and less complicated."