Oct 212019
 

Ruston Kelly's Dirt Emo Vol. II was drawn to review Ruston Kelly’s Dirt Emo Vol. 1 by Kelly’s bold move of putting a T-Swift cover on an “emo” cover album. The choice of “All Too Well” was oddly prescient, given Taylor Swift’s recent Tiny Desk performance. To be fair, I dare you to find something more emo than these lines: “Hey, you call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest.” The choice seems less strange once you learn that Kelly is no stranger to country music. He is based in Nashville and has helped pen country songs, including Tim McGraw’s “Nashville Without You.”

Digging into Kelly’s emo cover album, I found that the teaser Taylor song was actually not one of the standouts. Instead, the strength of the album comes from the songs where he specifically taps into his country roots in more unexpected ways. Two songs made me move beyond reminiscing about the originals and allowed me to hear the songs from a new perspective.

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Oct 182019
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

rock and roll zeppelin covers

Even if you can’t quite stomach the whole full-on vibe of Led Zeppelin — me, I have to admit to some yawning over the self-reverent mythologizing that can abound whenever one J. Page gets interviewed — you have to admit that “Rock and Roll” is one prime slice of, well, rock’n’roll. Astonishing, even, and one that has me almost believing it all. To be fair, at the time Zeppelin were bigger than huge, bigger than massive, and the sheer impact of side one of IV, on headphones, in a record store in Eastbourne, Sussex, U.K., had this 14-year-old boy smitten. I’d found II too guitarry (!), but this had me on their team immediately. (Side 2 less so, but that’s another story.)

Anyhow, it was in one of these long fawning articles the rock music glossies are so fond of that I discovered the back story of how “Rock and Roll” practically wrote itself in minutes, or at least the melody line. Messing around in the studio, John Bonham suddenly kicked off into an embellished drum intro, “borrowed” from Little Richard’s “Keep a Knockin’.” Jimmy Page instinctively banging in with the riff that basically is the song. With lyrics come from ye olde school rocke thesaurus, Robert Plant’s keening banshee of a vocal somehow imbues a meaningful basis for it all, whilst John Paul Jones’ subterranean bass underpins the whole thing. And, just when you are thinking it all a bit derivative, a final touch of brilliance: single note piano pounding it into the home stretch, courtesy of sixth Stone Ian Stewart.
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Oct 172019
 
northwest passage covers

Stan Rogers’ folk song “Northwest Passage” has been called the unofficial Canadian national anthem – and by a Canadian Prime Minister, no less. Two incredibly different covers that have come out recently add more evidence to that claim, and show that the song may be crossing the country’s southern border just as it crosses genre lines. Continue reading »

Oct 162019
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

Electric Light Orchestra

The 1977 hit “Mr. Blue Sky” was ELO’s fourth movement in the “Concerto for a Rainy Day” on its 1978 double album Out of the Blue. It enjoyed a #6 position in the UK, a #8 position in the Dutch charts, and peaked at #35 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The song is the most upbeat of the “Concerto.” That’s a fitting and welcome change in a suite that is about the gloom of a soggy day. It’s often been seen as a “Beatlesesque” pop song, with flashes of musical hall revelry. That is an apt description, given that Jeff Lynne was determined at the outset of ELO to bridge pop songs a lá The Beatles with more high-cultured orchestral arrangements.

If we are to look at the numerous covers that Second Hand Songs has compiled, most artists tap into the upbeat nature of the tune. Even Weezer couldn’t resist, featuring the song on their Teal album. Some covers border on bubblegum. Other have it stuck to the bottom of their shoe.

But today I write this review of covers while the sky is overcast, and the humidity is thick. And now that it is autumn, I wondered if there were any covers that cut against the grain and featured a more somber or dark take on “Mr. Blue Sky.” And indeed there are. So, here is my list of the Good, the Better, and the Best.

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Oct 152019
 
lucy dacus phil collins

While Phil Collins’s current Still Not Dead Yet tour has been a mostly a celebratory affair, it also bears a tinge of bittersweetness. A variety of physical ailments have impaired Phil’s ability to move around, requiring him to be seated for the majority of the shows. But despite these challenges, there is a particular song Phil makes a point of standing up to deliver most nights. It’s not one of the perky sing-alongs like “Sussudio” or “Invisible Touch,” but his eternally haunting, bitter and thunderous “In The Air Tonight.” Continue reading »

Oct 142019
 

Jenn Champion's The Blue Albumjenn champion the blue albumJenn Champion has gone through many musical identities, performing solo under the names Jenn Ghetto and S, and playing in a band called Carissa’s Wierd. Now she takes on another musical identity–a Weezer cover artist. Her cover album of Weezer’s first album, often dubbed “The Blue Album,” is available through Turntable Kitchen, a vinyl record club. 

Weezer’s debut album got a lot of buzz, coming out a month after the death of Kurt Cobain when the future of rock seemed poised for a change. Rolling Stone named it one of the 500 greatest albums of all time, and Pitchfork gave the original album a 10/10. So, no pressure, Champion. 

If you’ve ever been a bit put off by Rivers Cuomo’s personality, this is the reinterpretation for you. The overall vibe of this cover album is the self-conscious lyrics of old-school Weezer paired with the musical style of Tegan and Sara’s Heartthrob album. Champion’s ambitious project completely pays off; this album is excellent. 

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