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!
Tunstall’s debut album, Eye to the Telescope, contains crowd favorites such as “Suddenly I See,” which graces the iconic opening scene of the film The Devil Wears Prada. However, Tunstall’s breakout hit came in 2004, with “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.” (Woo hoo!) This song is emblematic of Tunstall’s overall style of guitar playing and vocal tone and features the popular Bo Diddley beat.
Speaking of trees, KT Tunstall made Rolling Stone‘s list of the 15 most eco-friendly rockers, thanks to her work to understand and reduce the carbon footprint of her tours and her time in the studio. She even had her house redone to be more green. Tunstall was also awarded an honorary science degree from her alma mater for her dedication to the environment. Dr. Tunstall is a woman of many talents and passions.
Since the release of her latest album in 2018, part two of a planned “soul, body and mind” trilogy, KT Tunstall has been busy. She toured the US and Canada earlier this year, and her tour continues in the UK throughout the summer with additional stops in China and Japan.
Adding to her original discography, KT Tunstall has done a breadth of covers, including many performed live on tour, with no genre off limits. Here are some of her most distinctive ones…
KT Tunstall – The Boys of Summer (Don Henley cover)
Let’s start with a simple and clean cover. As we’ll see, KT Tunstall is the queen of a stripped cover. Here we don’t miss any of the original percussion, keyboard, or electric guitar. In the original, these threaten to overpower Don Henley’s voice at times. In contrast, Tunstall’s delicate, acoustic guitar playing serves to only hint at a melody, allowing her voice to be the unobscured focus of the song. Her delivery is slightly melancholy, reminding us that “those days are gone forever” and inspiring us to soak up all the joy that summer (and its boys) have to offer.
KT Tunstall – Don’t You (Forget About Me) (Simple Minds cover)
The quintessential “hey hey hey”s and “oooh oooh”s still start off this mellow cover, but in a much calmer style. The instrumentation is sparse: a little bit of guitar that fades in and out but unlike the original, no heavy percussion. The “oooh”s remain in the background throughout, and there is some build-up towards the end, starting with some echoing, falsetto “don’t you”s. Percussion returns towards the end, accentuating the “la la”s. Overall this cover is a whimsical and slightly quirky take on this Breakfast Club classic.
KT Tunstall – Should I Stay Or Should I Go (The Clash)
If you thought a song by The Clash could never be a slow jam, think again. This cover still has plenty of electric guitar, but the pace is much slower. Tunstall even takes measured pauses before finishing phrases such as “it’s always take… take… take.” We lose the original’s yelling in the background, but without these distractions we can appreciate the simple delivery. The chorus doesn’t escalate in tempo as in the original, nor does it rely on emphasis from a tambourine beat. Instead, Tunstall’s sultry voice carries the song deliberately and unhurriedly.
KT Tunstall – Ain’t Nobody (Chaka Khan cover)
The original song’s distinctive sound relies heavily on the electronic-style intro and background. Although she has the help of a keyboard player, KT Tunstall is able to accomplish the same funk vibe predominantly with her acoustic guitar. While Chaka Khan uses a mix of short and long phrasing to emphasize the lyrics, Tunstall’s guitar strums serve as the punctuation. Although we lose the dramatic vocal build up to the chorus, Tunstall still brings a powerful and soulful voice with a timbre reminiscent of Chaka Khan herself.
KT Tunstall – Get Ur Freak On (Missy Elliot cover)
Tunstall gives us some new sh… with this Missy Elliot cover. The cover was recorded in the BBC Radio Live Lounge, home of many other great live covers. There’s something about non-rappers taking on a rap song that has a certain cover allure when done well. Not everyone can handle Elliot’s spunk without sounding forced, but Tunstall crushes this cover with every bit of sass as the original. Tunstall deviates from the rap style in the chorus, adding some melody instead of rapping the entire time. The distinctive melody remains even as the acoustic guitar adds to the traditional, sparse backbeat.
KT Tunstall – Independent Women Pt. 1 (Destiny’s Child cover)
If you thought taking on Missy Elliot was ambitious, Tunstall even has a Destiny’s Child cover. This is part of the “KT Cover Challenge” where she played a new cover every night on tour in 2017, often without prepping. It takes her a bit of time to get into the groove, but once she has worked out the kinks we hear a strong acoustic cover. With her guitar, Tunstall captures the syncopated beat of the original and keeps the original’s flair right up to the dramatic pause before “question.” There is not a millennial lady out there who has not sung “The shoes on my feet, I bought ’em” at the top of her lungs at some point in her life. Tunstall taps into this universal energy of independent women everywhere, getting the crowd involved. What can I say, I depend on KT.