May 292015
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

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Someday you idiots will shut up and listen to him. — Lou Barlow

Elliott Smith was an outlier. He stuck out on his label, Kill Rock Stars, home of Sleater-Kinney and The Raincoats. He stuck out at the Oscars, wearing a white suit while performing “Miss Misery,” a polar bear stranded on a floating iceberg that failed to sink the Academy’s love of all things Titanic. And he stuck out in defiance to America’s ignorance of his music by continuing to do things his own way, against the advice of those who supposedly had his best interests in mind. Unfortunately, he sometimes didn’t have his own, either.
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May 282015
 
Shamir

Before he turned to dance music, Las Vegas’s Shamir tried to become a country star. A local producer nixed the idea though, and while it helped him turn to the sound that is so buzzy right now, it was a definite loss for country. He’s shown that before, with a great cover of Linda Ortega and Miranda Lambert, and now he does it again covering Kacey Musgraves‘ “Merry ‘Go Round.” Continue reading »

May 262015
 
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Few musicians would have the artistic audacity to imagine Foo Fighters‘ aggressive guitar-chugging “The Pretender” as a folksy banjo-driven track, but dutch multi-instrumentalist Tessa Rose Jackson isn’t one to shy away from a challenge, effortlessly taking on the American rock group favorite and transforming it into a light and playful homage. Continue reading »

May 222015
 

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

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When Bruce Springsteen was touring behind his 2005 album Devils and Dust, he closed his shows with a cover of the song “Dream Baby Dream” by the protopunk band Suicide. Most fans of the Boss were unfamiliar with it, and didn’t know how to take the moody mantra, sung over the drone of a pump organ and an offstage synth – “Glory Days” it ain’t. It turned out Bruce had been a fan of Suicide’s since meeting them in a studio in the ’70s, and had claimed in one interview that “You know, if Elvis came back from the dead I think he would sound like Alan Vega.” As for Vega, once he’d heard Springsteen’s interpretation, he said, “Now I can die…. He interpreted my song, he did it his way, and such a great way that I’m going to have to sing it that way, or not sing it at all anymore…. On my death bed, that’s the last thing I’m going to listen to. I’ll play it at my funeral.” So it’s safe to say he liked it.
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May 152015
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Maybe it is too facile to say that Van Morrison’s second solo album, Astral Weeks, is respected, while its follow up, Moondance, is loved. We looked at Astral Weeks about a year ago, so there’s no reason to repeat that here, but it’s clear that Morrison took a very different approach with the two albums, both of which have entered the rock pantheon as classics (for example, both albums were inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame and Astral Weeks is 19 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all time; Moondance was ranked 66.) But while the older album is revered as a work of art, you actually heard (and still hear) songs from Moondance on the radio. Astral Weeks failed to chart, and no singles from the album were released, but Moondance reached 29 on the Billboard Pop Album chart, and had three singles released.

Astral Weeks is considered to be a unified song cycle or a concept album, filled with stream of consciousness lyrics. The musicians that were recruited mostly had jazz backgrounds, and Morrison encouraged them to improvise after hearing Morrison play the songs on an acoustic guitar. Despite critical acclaim, it received little commercial airplay and limited support from the label, Warner Bros.

After recording Astral Weeks, Morrison and his wife moved into a mountaintop house near Woodstock, in upstate New York. He began to write the songs for Moondance and recruited local musicians for the recording sessions. Although, like with his previous album, there were no formal written charts, Morrison focused this time on shorter, more upbeat and optimistic songs with accessible song structures, in part influenced by another group of Woodstock area residents, The Band. It also was greeted with great reviews, but garnered significantly more radio airplay and immediate sales than its predecessor. And, I would argue, few albums have a stronger first side (when that mattered) than Moondance (“And It Stoned Me”/”Moondance”/”Crazy Love”/”Caravan”/”Into The Mystic”), and side 2 isn’t shabby, either.
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May 152015
 

We may not get to see much of her face, but we have been hearing a ton from Sia. We have heard snippets of her The Mamas & the Papas cover during the trailer of the upcoming San Andreas film (starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), but the Internet, being the Internet, has produced the full rendition.

Sia’s powerhouse vocals are at an all time high, backed by haunting orchestration. Sia has the uncanny power to transform anything, even a folksy, nostalgic sort of ditty, into an evocative anthem that demands to be listened to on repeat.

Listen to more Sia on her official website.