Who would've expected dour alt-country troubadour Will Oldham (a.k.a. Bonnie "Prince" Billy) and the post-rock instrumentalists in Tortoise to collaborate on a 10-song covers album, named for the old Batman team-up comic The Brave And The Bold ? And who would've expected them to open that album with a frenzied take on Milton Nascimento's "Cravo È Canela," combining the proggy muscle of early Yes with the laid-back sophistication of Steely Dan? Or to do a synth-spiked, melancholy take on Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road," or an avant-drone version of the Minutemen's previously funky "It's Expected I'm Gone," or a glitchy, clanky run through Elton John's "Daniel"? The Brave And The Bold is one odd duck of an album, with two unsympathetic musical personalities paying tribute to 10 other unsympathetic musical personalities by making a record that doesn't sound at all… expected.
But it isn't completely alien, or completely unenjoyable. Oldham's voice is Oldham's voice, and when he's croaking his way through Richard Thompson's "Calvary Cross," it's impossible to disguise that heartfelt, deflated tone. And when John McEntire and company get their hands on Devo's "That's Pep," their flair for polyrhythm and sonic texture gets a full showcase. The Brave And The Bold mainly seems strange because of its eclectic assortment of songs, and the way Tortoise and Oldham re-imagine their melodies and structures without demolishing them. The album isn't some self-indulgent afternoon jam session. Each song has clearly been thought through, with the musicians fighting to preserve what they love. Even "It's Expected I'm Gone," which used to be snappy but is now draggy and somewhat scary, retains the spirit of fevered improvisation that the Minutemen represented. Truth be told, it's likely that every artist covered on The Brave And The Bold would enjoy these re-dos, and the songs that sit beside them. They're united by ecumenism.