The cover of Twelve, featuring a tambourine decorated for her by confidante Robert Mapplethorpe, serves notice that Smith’s covers album is no lark or contract-filler, but a way of paying homage to those whose music has shaped her from childhood on. The inclusion of patron saints Jimi Hendrix, the Doors and the Rolling Stones is no surprise to anyone who’s heard Smith discuss her influences, but Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon might come as a bit of a shock. (The expanded version includes a version of the Decemberists’ “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect.”)
Smith approaches most songs as a disciple, which is to say that the arrangements are faithful without being slavish and the main distinguishing factor is the sound of her voice. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is recast as bluegrass, with playing by several Holy Modal Rounders, but such digressions are the exception rather than the rule. There’s nothing so bold as her early appropriations of Them’s “Gloria” and Hendrix’s “Hey Joe,” so while Twelve casts a fascinating light on the albums that precede it, it doesn’t stand with the best of them.