Editor’s note: Hear Nebraska’s annual Take Cover fundraiser asks Nebraska songwriters to play two songs — one original and one cover of a song by another Nebraska artist. Take Cover is at The Waiting Room on Jan. 23 (RSVP) and at The Bourbon on Jan. 30 (RSVP). Each year, we ask a handful of songwriters to discuss the songs they’ve chosen.
Günter Voelker (Jack Hotel) on his Take Cover choice:
By now it’s well enough known that Dan McCarthy is an excellent songwriter, and he’s put out a whole album called Plays the Piano, but maybe less talked about is what an adept, articulate, sensitive guitar picker he is. And consistent: in performance, you’ll hear nary a note plucked awry. Not that you’re even listening for that moment, because Dan and the people with whom he surrounds himself project the kind of easy confidence that reassures you, as a listener, that you’re in good hands. Dan plays the way he writes, warmly but economically, without wasting your time or his own.
Backstage at Harvest the Hope, before stepping in front of several thousand people to warm the stage for a pair of generation-defining icons, both Dan and his upright player, James Maakestad, were a picture of serenity. Or maybe they were both freaking the fuck out, but if so, I couldn’t tell.
When I was invited to participate in Take Cover this year, I was quick to think of McCarthy Trenching. What gave me pause was, first, that they set a high bar for writing and performance that makes me think hard about situating one of my own songs next to one of theirs. Second was the one-of-a-kindness of Dan’s singing voice and phrasing. I tried a couple of my favorite songs and just couldn’t comfortably wrap my voice around them.
The tune I eventuated on should have been more obvious: “Thunderstorm Blues,” from Calamity Drenching. It’s a song designed to appeal to me, the kind I would sit in the car to let finish if it came on the radio when I was almost home. It has a traditional structure that I find immediately comforting, and works as a perfect example of Dan’s more-complicated-than-it-