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Jan 152008

Today’s theme is…states! I was going to try to do every state over a series of posts, but quickly realized I have fifty songs about California and none about, say, Delaware. So, instead, here’s a choice sampling of songs about states. Mostly lesser-known songs, because at this point I can no longer find a cover of Georgia On My Mind or Sweet Home Alabama that excites me. Feel free to pass along any ideas though. And if anyone has a good cover of Private Idaho…

Mavis Staples – Down In Mississippi (J.B. Lenoir)
A standout track from Mavis’ phenomenal album of civil rights songs, We’ll Never Turn Back, Ry Cooder gives this one an industrial edge, grinding behind vocals that never soar, but instead just push forward. One of the best covers from ’07.

Martin Simpson – Louisiana (1927) (Randy Newman)
Newman’s 70’s song about a devastating Louisiana flood in the early part of the century took on new significance in the wake of Katrina. Simpson’s fantastic guitar picking substitutes nicely for the piano and strings of the original. His voice is better than Randy’s, but not so note-perfect he misses the irony and tension in the original.

Disposable Heroes of Hipophrisy – California Über Alles (The Dead Kennedys)
Originally about governor Jerry Brown, the Heroes update the lyrics to deal with 90’s governor Pete Wilson, taking out the punk and turning it into Run-DMC hip-hop. Not too much like the original at this point, but that can help make a cover great.

Johnny Cash – When It’s Springtime In Alaska, It’s Forty Below (Johnny Horton)
One of Cash’s demos just recently released in the Personal Files, it’s just Cash playing for himself, without any overambitious producers or overzealous backing musicians. Simple acoustic strumming is all he needs behind that voice, effortlessly powerful.

The Dandy Warhols – Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)
Young’s venomous take on the Kent State shootings gets an electronic touch, with eerie harmonies and playing that, while slow, never lets up.

Kevin Davis – Alabama Song (Weil/Brecht)
Everyone knows The Doors’ version, and this is basically a cover of that cover. A couple guitars duel underneath the harmonies and harmonica.

Chrissie Hynde & Adam Seymour – Nebraska (Bruce Springsteen)
Originally written for the E Street Band, the whole Nebraska album seemed to work better in the acoustic guitar demos Springsteen made, so he just released those instead. The songs are bare-bone enough to have provided many great and very different versions, both reinventions by Bruce himself and covers by others. This one, a murderer’s lament, is slowed down even more with spare and wavy background guitar.

Sheryl Crow – Mississippi (Bob Dylan)
I generally hate Sheryl Crow, but she has plenty of famous friends, including Clapton and Bob, who sent her along this outtake from Time Out Of Mind for her to record (four years later he released his own version on Love & Theft). I’m still not quite sure what I think of it. It’s catchy and fun, which really don’t fit the lyrics too well, but…yeah. I’m still on the fence here. This one is solo acoustic, live in ’98.

Holly Cole – Jersey Girl (Tom Waits)
One of my least favorite Waits songs, the most famous cover is its overly earnest Springsteen version the royalties of which is probably still paying half Tom’s salary. Cole, however, is incredibly adept at smooth jazzy Waits covers, including this take from KCRW Morning Becomes Electric ’95.

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