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Getting under the covers
Savannah's best and brightest record their favorite tunes
Black Tusk covered the BuzzOven track "Toe Fry" (photo: Geoff L. Johnson)

“That’s just cheesy ... but, come on!” Cusses vocalist Angel Bond shouts to the audience after the band finishes a spirited cover of the Go–Go’s song “We Got the Beat.” Bond is out of breath, but laughing; she has clearly enjoyed the experience. The people are screaming their heads off.

Cusses’ take on “We Got the Beat” is one of the 14 tracks on Dirty Covers Mixtape Vol. 1, a collection of live, studio and demo recordings by Savannah artists. Fun is fun, whether it’s cheesy or not, and the download–only album is simply infectious fun from the first byte to the last. No one is trying to make a statement.

And it’s free – you can grab a download card at the Jinx on Wednesday, July 27, where several of the artists will be performing – between Rock & Roll Bingo games.

Dirty Covers features a healthy cross–section of heavily electrified rock bands (Free Candy, Habitat Noise), sweltering metal (Black Tusk, Dead Yet?), hypnotica electronica (Magic Places/Britt Scott), Americana (Brandon Nelson McCoy, Lonesome Swagger) and spare acoustic music (Lady Lazarus, the Mubles and Sincerely, Iris).

The album was the brainchild of Howler bassist Jeremiah Stuard, whose band offers up a thrashing run–through of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ “American Girl.”

“It was just an idea that I had while I was driving around one day,” he explains. “I’ve seen all the hip hop artists and rap artists do mixtapes, and I thought ‘Why not a rock one’?”

He began to discuss his idea with various musician pals, who in turn told their other friends. Since there’s so much original music being played in Savannah, nearly everyone though cutting covers would be a healthy (not to mention fun) change of pace.

“Some of them had things already recorded,” says Stuard, “and others made a point to go in and record their covers for it.

“I put up a few posters around town and I actually got some responses from artists that I’d never even talked to or met at all, which was really cool.”

The tracks began to trickle in. Free Candy contributed the Cramps’ hard and quirky “What’s Inside a Girl.” McCoy and Lonesome Swagger dug into their grab–bags of Townes Van Zandt tunes (“To Live is to Fly” and “Cocaine,” respectively). Black Tusk pummeled through BuzzOven’s “Toe Fry.” Indian Giver and Habitat Noise took on Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

It’s certainly an eclectic mix of styles and genres, with some artists either doing dramatic re–interpretations (the Phays’ electronic instrumental “Na Na Hey Hey”) or adding balls to something that existed in somewhat lighter form (Alpanista and TTL sending Roxy Music’s otherwise sinewy “Casanova” into hyperspace, the Boys Who Cried Wolf giving Sufjan Stevens’ twee “Chicago” an exciting full–band treatment).

“The only ground rule was that it wasn’t your own song,” Stuard says. “I didn’t really tell anybody to go straight up and do like an exact replica of the original song, I just left it up to them.”

“They’re fun to do. You just take songs that you know, that everybody else knows, and you can kind of make them your own and do what you want.”

There is no CD, hard–copy version of the album. “I did it as a mixtape because I knew I was going to offer it for free,” says Stuard. “And that’s really the only way you can do that without getting into any legal trouble.”

Dare Dukes, who’s in the mixing stages of his second album Thugs and China Dolls, took time out to home–record a thickly layered and overdubbed version of Brian Eno’s “Some of Them Are Old” for Dirty Covers. He plays all the instruments and sings all the vocal parts.

“I know that I’m perceived as an acoustic act,” says Dukes, “which is totally cool. I am an acoustic act. But I also have this other side. So I thought it would be cool to do an Eno tune, and do it almost entirely electronic.”

Eno, says Dukes, “has always been a giant hero of mine. And I’ve always wanted to cover this song.”

Melissa Ann Sweat, who uses the stage name Lady Lazarus, says she chose Daniel Johnston’s “Story of An Artist” for several specific reasons.

“I think it tells, very simply and beautifully. what it feels like to be an artistic person sometimes. I’ve played that many times for myself, feeling that he really nailed those feelings of being misunderstood, and of the artistic impulse being just that, an impulse and a compulsion, something that you just have to do.”

Lady Lazarus’ music, of course, is intimate, minimal and haunting – and her cover of “Story of An Artist” would’ve fit quite nicely among the self–penned tunes on her romantically low–fi album Mantic.

“There’s a lot of guise going on in music, a lot of posturing,” Sweat adds, laughing a little. “And that’s rock ‘n’ roll! That’s entertainment. And I don’t know if I’m interested in that aspect of it, myself.”

It’s bittersweet time for Sweat, as she’s leaving Savannah – after just a year – to be closer to her family in California. Her final Savannah show is Thursday at Live Wire Music Hall, alongside Brandon Nelson McCoy & the Sad Bastard String Band (it's McCoy's last local gig, too - he's moving to Athens).

Meanwhile, vocalist Britt Scott is performing at the Dirty Covers launch Wednesday at the Jinx, alongside her musical partner, the electronica wizard Paul Goerner (a.k.a. Magic Places). They’ll play their ephemeral cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gypsy,” from the album, and a couple of original songs.

“We actually started working on ‘Gypsy’ before Jeremiah contacted us about the mixtape,” Scott explains. “We were just kind of doing it for kicks – we both really like Fleetwood Mac – and we decided to finish it, because it would be perfect for the mixtape.”

Scott’s a busy bee in Savannah’s creative honeycomb. Along with her co–op with Magic Places, she has her own band, sings standards at the speakeasy Mata Hari’s, and bellydances with Cairo on the Coast.

Scott is also a graphic designer and a co–founder of Outlet, a quarterly arts magazine.

“I did music before I moved here,” she says, “but I didn’t really start writing my own stuff and playing out a lot until last year. And the community here has really helped me to feel comfortable, and given me the means to do that.

“Last June, Outlet put together a downloadable playlist of local music. I didn’t know many people in the music community yet – I kind of met them by doing that. I actually got to know Paul through it. And he’s really encouraged me to keep at it.”

That spirit of community, in fact, is what convinced Jeremiah Stuard that Dirty Covers would get the support it needed.

“Ever since I came down here to Savannah, two or three years ago, it didn’t seem like there was much of a music scene,” he explains. “I mean, it was here but it wasn’t being promoted as well as I had seen it in other cities. So I thought it would be really good to just get everybody together – to get all the artists to work towards a common goal.”

And, he emphasizes, there’s a Vol. 1 in the title of this recorded project. Meaning there will probably be a followup.

“I’d like to do another one, covers of actual Savannah artists,” Stuard says. “So the bands that are on there, and a few others, maybe we can get them to cover other local bands that they admire. Maybe just to hear a different version of the song.”

Dirty Covers Mixtape launch

Where: The Jinx, 127 Congress St.

When: At 9 p.m. Wednesday, July 27

What’s there: Live performances by Britt Scott/Magic Places, Indian Giver, Sincerely Iris, Lonesome Swagger

Download cards: A limited edition of 200, given out (free) during the evening

Online: See Dirty Covers’ Facebook page