Canada's progressive string quartet The Fretless aren't the first such group to do an album of modern covers, or add guest vocalists. But often those sets are larks, a bit of fun, and a way to draw attention from the pop audience. You're not going to find such stunts here, no novelty string arrangements of "Highway To Hell" or a set of beloved Fleetwood Mac classics. Instead, the singers are interesting experimenters, and the songs are for the most part somewhat obscure. They were chosen from a list the group had of works they felt would benefit from their particular style of arrangement, and a strings and vocals-only treatment.
Even if you do know the song, you'll barely recognize it, which is a great thing. Feist's "My Moon My Man" has an otherworldly quality here, with Scottish folkie Rachel Sermanni accompanied by some delightful swirls. Nashville couple Freddie & Francine match the beauty of the moody melody from Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" with their fine vocals. And the group, along with Lady Phyl, turn "Wondering Where The Lions Are" into something unrecognizable but wonderful, retaining only the lyrics as the strings sail into eternity.
Both Dan Mangan and the Bros. Landreth got to work with the group on reimagined versions of their own songs, Mangan on "Troubled Mind" and the Bros. with "Let It Lie." For my ears, it's great to hear songs stripped of beats and 2020 cliches, and brought back to a more musical place; witness the version of Alessia Cara's "Stay" with Nuela Charles for that. There's a little bit of me wishing The Fretless would remake, like, everything.