Here’s a combination that makes no sense whatsoever. The soul and funk legend Chaka Khan got her start as the singer for the band Rufus. Today, Khan has teamed up with a very different Rufus, the second-generation singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, to sing “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” a song that most of us remember for deeply silly reasons.
Today, Rufus Wainwright releases Folkocracy, a new covers album that’s got a whole lot of guests on it. We’ve already posted Wainwright’s version of the Appalachian murder ballad “Down In The Willow Tree” with Brandi Carlile and his take on Neil Young’s “Harvest” with Andrew Bird and Chris Stills. The album also has appearances from people like David Byrne, ANOHNI, Sheryl Crow, and John Legend. But the song that’s going to raise the most eyebrows is “Cotton-Eyed Joe.”
“Cotton-Eyed Joe” is an old line-dancing folk song with mysterious origins in the 19th century. For most of us, though, the most famous version of “Cotton-Eyed Joe” is the one that was a huge global novelty hit for the Swedish group Rednex in 1994. That “Cotton-Eyed Joe” was a strange fusion of Euro-dance and bluegrass, and it would’ve been fun to hear Rufus Wainwright and Chaka Khan sing the song like that. Instead, they’ve played it as an emotional piano-ballad, and Chaka Khan really shows off her voice on it. Below, listen to the Rufus Wainwright/Chaka Khan take on “Cotton-Eyed Joe” and, just for fun, watch the Rednex video.
While you’re at it, you can stream Rufus Wainwright’s entire Folkocracy album below.
Folkocracy is out now on BMG.