Oct 312016
 
LarkinPoe

Elvis Costello’s recent Detour run (detour… de tour… get it?) was billed as a solo gig, but for half of the show I caught, he wasn’t up there alone. Flanking him was his opening band, the duo Larkin Poe. For instance, here’s the trio on one of Costello’s classics, “Blame It On Cain”:

You can see why Costello has come to depend on them so much at these “solo” dates; he even turned over lead vocals on an unreleased new song, “Burn the Paper Down to Ash.” Larkin Poe’s opening set was every bit as impressive – the fact that they still had energy left to join Costello after it, even more so. Atlanta sisters Megan and Rebecca Lovell stormed the stage, making a mandolin and steel guitar howl and holler with a blues-rock fever. They’ve earned themselves the tagline “the little sisters of the Allman Brothers,” and for good reason. Continue reading »

Oct 282016
 

alr-0039_grandeWhen Elliott Smith was alive, nobody covered his music. He covered a lot of musicians himself, but whether it was considered sacrilegious to cover his songs or there was a lack of interest, it’s hard to say. I know, because after finally getting on the Elliott bandwagon after hearing “Waltz #2” on MTV in the late ’90s, I was hooked, and searched Napster in vain for cover songs of his work. The drought of Elliott Smith covers outlasted Napster (or at least the first incarnation), but now both are reborn again.

As a cover fan AND a Smith fan, it’s often a road of sorrows. I’ve written about Elliott Smith before, of course, and that’s because there’s way more attention paid to him post-mortem, and thus more covers are recorded of his music. The drawback is that while I’m all for artists repurposing songs to their own liking, there is so much nuance in Smith’s output that many cover songs sound like the stereotypical photocopy of a photocopy: all of the emotion and heart is lost. However, that’s changed for the better over the years, and now culminates in the fantastic compilation Say Yes! A Tribute to Elliott Smith (American Laundromat Records). Continue reading »

Oct 272016
 
My Goodness_Jake Gravbrot

It’s been a good year for covers of Tom Petty’s non-Heartbreakers tracks. Back in January we heard Jane Kramer’s great version of a Highway Companion deep cut, and now we have My Goodness covering a better-known song off a better-known album: Wildflower’s lead single “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” The Seattle duo of guitarist/vocalist Joel Schneider and drummer Andy Lum slows the song way down on their upcoming EP Islands, giving it a spooky menace just in time for Halloween.

“We were listening to a lot of Tom Petty on our last US tour, great driving music – so we decided to choose a classic and take it to a dark place,” Lum tells us. “When we started recording in Seattle, our producer Shawn suggested we play the song at double speed and slow the tape down to get this spacey, warped drum sound. It felt insane while we were tracking, but the end result was totally worth it.” Continue reading »

Oct 252016
 

John Scofield Country for Old MenOK, let’s not mess around, but is this not the best title of the year, that alone nearly enough to nail it for me as an essential purchase? And John Scofield has the billiest billy goatee ever on the sleeve, delineating this is one cool (old) dude. (Actually I was quite disappointed he is only 64.) But don’t get carried away here, this is not country music in any received sense of the word, country in anything other than the songs, which are all instrumental, suggesting some knowledge (and love, probably) of their original. And these versions take the merest slip of melody and fire it up into the sky, a 52 card pick-up, a melange of a snippet here and a snippet there into a, yes, damn it, hard jazz explosion. I know I have now lost most readers with the J word, it seldom getting much of a shout in these pages. But maybe this is the day someone takes a chance. So come on in, the water’s lovely.
Continue reading »

Oct 212016
 
20141107__npr_maryj_pvy__0043-e

Mary J. Blige made headlines earlier this month when she sang Bruce Springsteen‘s “American Skin (41 Shots)” directly to Hillary Clinton during an interview. Now she has released a proper recording, accompanied by Kendrick Lamar, whose To Pimp a Butterfly addressed many of the same issues as this song. It ain’t no secret, to quote the track, why Blige is covering it right now. Though Springsteen wrote it 15 years ago, the topic of unwarranted police shootings is more prevalent in the age of Black Lives Matter than ever. At the time, he earned boos from policemen for the song, and it will be interesting to see if Blige and Lamar’s version inspires the same outrage. Continue reading »

Oct 202016
 
TheLandBelow

Later this year, we’ll be posting our year-end lists. One category we don’t include is “Best New Cover Performer” – but if we did, The Land Below would be a shoe-in. We’ve already heard him beautifully cover Slipknot, Alanis Morisette, and Eagle-Eye Cherry (how’s that for a diverse source list?). Now he’s back with another unexpected pick, Moby’s “Porcelain.” Less unexpected: he does a fantastic job, once again. Continue reading »