Under The Covers :: Mystifies Me


In comparing an original song to a cover, it usually makes sense to discuss the qualities that defined the original in relation to how the cover treats the material.    But so many of us obtain knowledge of a song in the backwards way – cover first – that it can be just as insightful to look at how that experience shapes our perceptions of the original. That’s how I came to know “Mystifies Me,” originally recorded by Ron Wood, but brought to me via the fine folks in Son Volt.

Son Volt’s cover of “Mystifies Me” closes their debut Trace with a touch of maudlin melancholy, letting Jay Farrar’s voice end the album with a chance to show off his emotional range in a way that echoes the album’s opening song, “Windfall.”    “Mystifies Me” also winds the album down on a song that is much more directly understandable than the typical imagistic wordplay of Farrar’s own lyrics.   As such, it’s an anchor for the album’s hazy, sepia vision. Son Volt’s version plays out like a well worn love letter; something written between two people who know each other very, very well.    The mystification that Farrar sings about is the evidence of their relationship’s strength.   It is a show of something that never gets old, that seeps and dodges definition.

Ron Wood’s original, from 1974’s I’ve Got My Own Album to Do, is a kneeling drunkard’s plea to his beloved. Or is she?   She could be someone that Wood could never get a hold on, someone who constantly defied his attempts to win her over or figure her out.   His voice is filled with the uncertainty of someone lost in a cloud of emotions.   A violent haze of swirling colors that blur his understanding of the situation.

The songs aren’t that far from each other musically, but the moods are affected in important ways.   The sound of Wood’s original is the sound of a man inhabiting the ’70s scene of the Faces and the Rolling Stones. There’s a sense of woozy nostalgia to everything, a sense of unrealized ambitions and tragic mediocrity.   Son Volt takes the song’s wavering edges and tightens them up within the confines of pedal steel and softly punctuating drums that sharpen the song’s musical focus.    It’s not only Farrar’s delivery of the lines, but the music itself that turns a song of semi-desperation into a song of someone who is satisfied to let the mystery be.   words/ j neas

Related: Ronnie Wood :: Sure The One You Need (w/ Keef)

MP3: Ron Wood :: Mystifies Me
MP3: Son Volt :: Mystifies Me (cover)

13 thoughts on “Under The Covers :: Mystifies Me

  1. very cool…I actually never realized Son Volt did this song, even though I had the album. I haven’t listened to it in a while

  2. Great post. Nice to see Son Volt getting some love! I am eager to hear the Ron Wood version.

  3. Interesting observations about these two approaches…first thought when listening to Ronnie is how he can’t deny his link to the Stones (nor should he feel compelled to, I would think). Second thought is how Son Volt brings to the song a deeper, more countrified setting which, of course, is what his legend is built around. Very much the same but very much different, I think. [Namaste|Music Junkie|Fusion 45]

  4. Just to throw this out there, not responding to anyone in particular, but as an interesting chronological note: this album was recorded about 2 or 3 years before Wood joined the Stones. If anything it does show what a natural fit at guitarist he was for the band.

  5. I love both of these versions. I also was introduced to the Ronnie Wood version thanks to Son Volt. Once I found it was a cover I went and snagged the entire Wood album on vinyl. It is also a pretty good record. Far East Man with George Harrison and Sure The One You Need are both highlights. I had read that Mystifies Me was written about the one and only Pattie Boyd.

  6. The duet vocals with Rod Stewart make Woody’s version even greater. Also of note from the Ron Wood LP, the reggae-esque “I Can Feel the Fire” featuring vocals by Mick Jagger and covered nicely in the early 80’s by Australia’s Renee Geyer.

  7. Thanks so much for posting this. Hadn’t heard the fantastic Son Volt cover of a fantastic song. The original Ron Wood album seems to be largely unknown and highly underrated. Regarding some of the comments – yeah, the album came out before Wood officially joined the Stones, but he’d already been working with them (“It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll”), and Keith Richards backed up Wood on the entire album, even singing lead at times. Highly recommended for any fan of ’70s Stones.

  8. I do consider myself ‘cover savvy’ but had no clue this was a Rod Wood cover. Thanks for the post.

  9. No había escuchado este cover. Es cierto que no están alejados en cuánto a la música, pero si la interpretación de la melodía se dirige a distintos lugares. Diría que esta versión tiende a la ternura…en cuanto al disco de Ron Wood, notable album! grande ron!

  10. First, what a wonderfully written piece. Just happened upon this site as I was checking out some Son Volt stuff. I know I’m about a year late to this discussion, but kudos to the writer.

    Second, I think you’re DEAD on. Try dancing with a woman you love to Ron Wood’s version then try dancing to the Son Volt version (which I did at my wedding). You’ll see definitely see that difference the author was describing.

    Good to see TRACES getting some love. It’s one of the most underrated albums (in my mind).

  11. Briles, my wife and I had our first dance to Son Volt’s version as well. Was just listening to the song this morning which led me to start googling the lyrics and meaning. Just a fantastic album.

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