Here in Cincinnati, there's a rather intense rivalry between bands that play original music and bands that play cover songs. It's a debate that rages in the clubs, on the streets, in people's homes and on the local music message boards. You're either performing 95 to 100 percent original music — or you're not. You're either providing carbon-copy live covers to the Friday and Saturday night Main Street and suburban bar crowds — or you're not. Original music is original music, and cover music is cover music — never the twain shall meet. Forever and ever. World without end. Amen.
The five-man, Americana/Soul/Blues/Rock band, Hyde Park Outrage, begs to differ.
Greg Burton (aka G. Burton), lead singer/acoustic guitarist/songwriter of Hyde Park Outrage, explains: "I don't consider ourselves to be a cover band, but we do play other people's music," he says.
"You're not going to hear us play 'Brown-Eyed Girl' or Dave Matthews songs or anything. I think that we're the only band in town that plays other people's music (in our sets), but 75 percent of it is original music and we play three sets of that. We couldn't get the gigs that we get here (in Cincinnati) playing three sets of original music.
"The smartest thing that I could think to do to bring our original music to the masses was to play our original sets and bookend them with a couple of Prince tunes or Merle Haggard songs or Radiohead or whoever. We do play other people's songs, but we play them in our own way. But, if you want to call us a cover band, yeah, we are."
As Burton says, HPO's approach to their original music is a stealthy one — rather than the band sounding like the performers they cover, the songs they cover sound like the band wrote them. It's as if Burton and crew just can't — or won't — do it any other way. Since HPO frequently shares a bill with all-original local rockers The Stapletons, and other all-original groups, the approach seems to be working for them.
HPO was formed in 1999 as an acoustic, three-part harmony trio featuring Burton, Clint Zimmerman (guitar/harmonica/backing vocals) and Jeff Boling (guitar/backing vocals). The three added bass player Chris Perault, while drummer Chris Verbanic (Derrick Sanderson's Soul Expression) signed on last summer. Their original sound suggests classic Southern Rock (residing more around the Mississippi Delta than say, Georgia) with a Pop sensibility and just a little bit of Eastern European Gypsy thrown in to make it appealingly weird.
Their first CD — Cobaltwesternsouthern trancemusic! — which contains nothing but their originals, would make a fine soundtrack to a hot summer afternoon's BBQ followed by a firefly-lit night in which pretty girls in cotton dresses dance barefoot on the flattened grass. Burton's assured tenor is accessible, but far from generic. It's a comforting sound: You know this guy from somewhere, and you remember that you like him. He possesses one of those unique voices that draws you in, which goes a long way to explain how HPO's covers can sound like their originals. He also happens to be a hell of an original storyteller, spinning tales of love, loss and "trailer park ways." The musicianship is also top-shelf, with Zimmerman and Boling trading lead guitar lines seamlessly while the rhythm section of Perault and Verbanic anchor the proceedings eloquently.
"Just about every city has a Hyde Park, and here in town people think 'certain things' about that (neighborhood)," says Burton, deconstructing the band's name and, subsequently, its "mission" as well. "We'll play (Main Street and suburban bars), but we're not going to play Dave Matthews. We're not going to play Barenaked Ladies. We're going to give them Johnny Cash and the 'weird' covers and original music ... thus, Hyde Park Outrage."
Hyde Park Outrage might just change your preconceptions about original bands and cover bands at the same time. Who said that the farmer and the cowboy can't be friends?
HYDE PARK OUTRAGE (songtrucker.com) performs Friday at the Village Pub in Covington's Mainstrasse Village. The group also plays the last Wednesday of each month at Longworth's in Mount Adams.