Review of David Fertello's violin cover of Macklemore's "Can't Hold Us" ft. Ryan Lewis

Fertello playing "Can't Hold Us" in front of the LA city skyline
Fertello playing "Can't Hold Us" in front of the LA city skyline

Good music involves evolution on both a micro and macro scale, a refining process that shaves off the inessential or immature ideas to lay bare a beautiful song.

Music, like all the great arts, often compels people to action—even if that action is only imitation. It seems as if every time a song becomes popular, in any genre, covers of that song spring up across the web like weeds. Searching “Can’t Hold Us Cover” on YouTube results in well over two million videos. These are often performed by teenagers sitting in their bedrooms with a beat up guitar, singing lustily at their webcams. While imitations are said to be the highest form of flattery, most could not in and of themselves be considered art.

This is not that kind of imitation.

David Fertello
David Fertello | Source

In an age of instant gratification, split-second attention spans, and a perpetual sense of entitlement, it is unusual to see such an extraordinary depth of thought put into a piece of music. Macklemore’s original song is a riot of snappy lyrics, upbeat brass, and sheer charisma. Many covers feature singers turning the rapping portions into melodious two-part harmonies, but none (that I have seen) have gone quite where this cover goes. Fertello, previously seen on NBC’s The Sing Off and on nationwide tours for bands like R5, transcribed well over 100 tracks, replicating every instrument and vocal from the original as a violin line.

David Fertello
David Fertello | Source

If the song seems complicated, that’s because it is. With dozens of hours in studio and even more mixing and mastering, the video is the least impressive part of the equation (not to belittle the video)—but even the visuals tell their own story. Set against the L.A. city skyline, it would be easy to misunderstand the line “It’s my city, my city, childhood, that’s right, under those lights” as referring to Los Angeles. Though Fertello lives and works in L.A., like Macklemore, he grew up in Seattle, bringing a new twist to the lyrics, which were taken not from “Can’t Hold Us,” but from a lesser-known Macklemore song, “My Oh My,” which was a tribute to Dave Niehaus, the former announcer of the Seattle Mariner’s baseball team. In this context, Fertello’s manipulation of the lyrics seems to imply that home is a place you can take with you, a thing that is remembered as much as it is lived.

David Fertello
David Fertello | Source

But sharing a home-town with the original artist and recording a lot of tracks does not a good song make, and many could be turned off by the overwhelming lack of vocals in Fertello’s version. But focusing on the melody rather than the lyrics is actually where this cover takes a potentially dangerous but worthwhile step in the right direction. Can you imagine listening to Thrift Shop rapped by someone besides Macklemore? Half the reason the song is interesting is because it’s Macklemore, and not some other rapper. There is a quality to his voice and tempo and timbre that is not only fascinating, but nearly impossible to replicate or surpass. In doing a (nearly) all-violin rendition, Fertello didn’t do just another Macklemore cover—he did what all good music is supposed to do: he made it evolve.

But don’t take my word for it—check it out and decide for yourself.

David Fertello's "Can't Hold Us" Cover

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- Produced, arranged, and played by David Fertello:

- Engineered, mixed, and mastered by Kimera Morrell:

- Directed and Edited by Sean Willis:

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