They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
It’s hard to believe, but in a couple months we’ll be celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the release of Exile in Guyville, the benchmark indie album that revealed Liz Phair to the world at large. She won a reputation for her lyrical candor, never using a euphemism when a dysphemism will do (look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls), and delivering those lyrics in a perfectly imperfect everywoman voice, set to spare but incredibly catchy melodies. Subsequent albums saw her staying true to her voice no matter where it took her, and as songs like “H.W.C.” attested, she never lost her spunk.
In recent years Phair has branched out, doing more writing (the New York Times‘ rave review of Keith Richards’ autobiography? She wrote that) and winning an award for composing the music for TV dramas. She’s still best known for her Exile material – three of today’s covers come from that album – but as she celebrates her 46th birthday today, it’s clear she’s got a lot of accomplishments that she can be proud of. Here are some of them, as performed by others…
MP3: U.S. Elevator – Never Said (Liz Phair cover)
U.S. Elevator call their sound “beat-folk,” and who are we to argue? Combining New England roots music with California electronica sensibilities, Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion join forces with Bay Area producers the Rondo Brothers to give Phair’s “Never Said” a pleasingly narcotic feel, less defiant than the original, more above whatever the dispute may be.
MP3: Maria Doyle Kennedy – Girls! Girls! Girls! (Liz Phair cover)
You may remember Maria Doyle Kennedy as one of the three backup singers in The Commitments, or as Sonya the nanny in season five of Dexter. Her musical career has gone on even longer than her acting career, and the results are equally memorable – witness her cover of “Girls! Girls! Girls!”, which perks up when given an Irish lilt.
MP3: Frank Rogala – F**k and Run (Liz Phair cover)
Frank Rogala had an idea – he wanted to create an album of songs coming from a decidedly female perspective and sing them without changing a single pronoun. The result was Crimes Against Nature, featuring covers like “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “Lover Man,” and Phair’s “F**k and Run,” which sounds a lot like a Lou Reed ’80s outtake. More importantly, it captures the narrator’s vulnerability that the profanity can’t quite hide.
MP3: The Adriffs – Whip-Smart (Liz Phair cover)
For her follow-up to Exile, Phair came up with Whip-Smart, an album that didn’t – couldn’t – have the impact of its predecessor, but had plenty of quality songs that merited and rewarded multiple listens. One was the title track, a rerecording from her Girlysound demo tapes. This cover by the Adriffs is closer in spirit to the demo, sounding less produced, less evolved, but all the sweeter for it.
MP3: Juliana Hatfield – Friend of Mine (Liz Phair cover)
Juliana Hatfield released a self-titled album in 2012 that was all covers, paying tribute to both FM staples (the Who, Led Zeppelin) and indie musicians (Nada Surf, I Blame Coco). She and Phair were frequently lumped together back in the day; here, she covers a lesser-known track, “Friend of Mine” from Phair’s own self-titled album and proves that they were contemporaries in more than just their age, gender, and profession.