For Buffalo Rose, covering Madonna’s “Borderline” did not come without some internal discussion.
The Pittsburgh string band does a loving take on the 1983 Madonna hit on “Borrowed & Blue: Live Around One Microphone” a new EP that found them recording, just like they practice, around one mic in the grand folk/bluegrass tradition.
“It was my idea to do ‘Borderline,’ ” says singer Lucy Clabby. “I’m the Madonna fan of the group and it wasn’t necessarily that I was particularly attached to that song, but when I was younger I did see another cover of it …”
“My older sister’s friend showed me that when we were teenagers and I was obsessive with it,” she says. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever because it sounds nothing like the original song. That sort of inspired me, in general, in terms of the way that I look at music and recreating other people’s music and taking inspiration from it.”
Buffalo Rose gives it a more traditional string treatment, with Rosanna Spindler taking the lead and Clabby and Shane McLaughlin adding harmonies.
“The singers were excited. They’re always are excited about pop stuff. The only resistance I ever really get is from Mac,” Clabby says.
That would be Mac Inglis, who is not only the dobro player but “the genius behind the recording process,” she says.
“I don’t think he’ll be mad that I called him out like this. Mac did not grow up loving pop music the same way that I did, so his reactions to the songs are not always the same. But we went through this once before when we covered ‘Lucky’ by Britney Spears and the approach we used for that was we played it for him without telling him who it was, who had written a song — we just played him our arrangement of it and he loved it, so he’s come to trust me.”
“Borderline” already has more than 9,000 YouTube views, so it’s well on its way to becoming Buffalo Rose’s most popular video. The EP also includes four original songs reworked for this one-mic approach and their cover blend of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” “Seven Nation Army” had been in the set for a long time, Clabby says, because her first concert was The White Stripes and that’s one of her “old-school favorite songs.”
“It’s one of our standard covers,” she says. “The ‘Sweet Dreams’ part came in maybe a year ago when we realized in practice that the riffs blended so well together. One person started humming the other song and we just got excited and started singing the verses over the chord progressions, and because we’ve been playing ‘Seven Nation’ for our fans for a little while at this point, we thought it would be fun to spice it up and do a little medley.”
The EP was recorded at the Unity Center in Garfield over two days in February with the band, which also includes mandolin player Bryce Rabideau and upright bassist Jason Rafalak, doing just a few takes of each song.
“In some ways it’s easier, in some ways it’s harder,” Clabby says of the method, “because you don’t have the time or ability to nitpick endlessly. So, the challenge is getting everybody to get the best take at the same time, which is very rare, but usually we can come to some sort of agreement about what the overall best-feeling take was for everybody.”
The EP will be available Friday and at 8 p.m. Friday, the band will play the release show on its YouTube channel.
More at Pittsburgh Post-Gazette