Hope Silverman

Hope Silverman of NYC grew up actually wishing she could work in a real live Record Store. The wish was manifested beginning with a long stint at CBGB's Record Canteen where Johnny Thunders called her "sweetheart", and then carried on through many colorful years at HMV and Virgin. Her retail journey culminated in running Rough Trade Shop in NYC. She currently works her music muscle by both kicking out the occasional record on her tiny label 80N7 and flexing hard at her nerdy music blog showcasing the under-appreciated, underrated and undiscovered in the glorious pop universe. https://pickinguprocks.com

Jul 172020
 

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

Wheatus

From the first moment I heard “Teenage Dirtbag,” upon its release in 2000, it felt like it was everywhere. Hearing it rattle the walls as it emanated from the massive sound system at Virgin Megastore in Times Square (where I was working back then) would always trigger the same two contradictory thoughts: “not again,” followed rapidly by “…I love this “. Tune-wise, it seemed like the hyperactive and insecure younger sibling of  Nada Surf’s 1996 sarcastic classic “Popular,” all catchy, candy-coated and gigantically chorus’d. But lyrically, well, that’s where the sonic kinship ended.

Ricky KassoEven if you didn’t grow up on Long Island in the ’80s, if you are a true-crime aficionado of a certain age (a horrific classification but here we are), you are likely to be familiar with the case of Ricky Kasso, who murdered Gary Lauwers (both 17) in June of 1984. And if you did grow up there like Wheatus’s Brendan B.Brown (and myself), the whole story is firmly and forever embedded in your psyche, especially if you were a kid or teen at the time. It was both tragic and terrifying.

It wasn’t long before the press found a sensationalistic angle to latch onto regarding the crime and the scapegoating began. When Kasso was arrested for the murder, he was famously photographed wearing an AC/DC shirt replete with a bloody logo and a green cartoon devil. And that little detail, coupled with rumors of the crime being part of a satanic sacrifice ritual, provided all the ammunition needed for those in authority–i.e. parents, teachers and police–to go into irrational overdrive. As naively fantastical as sounds, from that point on, if you actively listened to metal, if you wore tees featuring the bands you loved like Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath, you were heretofore regarded as one of the devil’s loyal soldiers. While this mistrust of metalheads was patently ridiculous, an absurd piece of residual damage based on a single news photo, it really happened. And it was this very notion that led Brendan B. Brown to pen “Teenage Dirtbag”.
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Jul 152020
 
margo price opry

Like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, Henson Cargill’s 1968 debut single “Skip A Rope” remains an incredibly relevant and sadly prescient song. Laid back yet forceful, it offers a blunt message regarding the roots of racism and violence within a gently galloping, almost nursery rhyme-ish tune – the sonic epitome of sour and sweet. The song describes how kids absorb the values they’re exposed to; a directive to parents and adults to be aware at how terrible notions are taught through observation and exposure. It asks them to listen then look in the mirror and take responsibility. It’s a country pop song yes, but it’s brimming with some hard truths. Continue reading »

Jul 092020
 

ryley walker covers epjenn champion the blue albumThe most basic, clinical way to describe singer-songwriter-guitarist Ryley Walker’s signature sound would be to liken him to legends like Bert Jansch, John Martyn or Michael Hedges. Which is to say he’s jazzy, folky, eccentric and joyfully unpredictable. But the ideal way to describe his sound requires that we get flowery and overly sentimental for a second: He infuses such an undeniable brightness into whatever he plays that he quite literally sounds like the sun peaking through the trees on a quiet street in the summertime.

On his new cover EP, titled, yes, covers, his slips his beautifully optimistic style onto tracks by Grouper, Cass McCombs, Isotope 217 and Amen Dunes. You don’t need to be familiar with the originals here to appreciate the EP’s sweet, embraceable sound. In fact if you aren’t, Walker’s engaging versions of these tracks might inspire you to check out the originals (in which case you are in for a treat). Continue reading »

Jun 242020
 
Emma Swift

Bob Dylan just released his 39th studio album Rough and Rowdy Ways and in case you haven’t heard, it is very, very good. “I Contain Multitudes” was the LP’s second single and remains one of its undeniable highlights. Upon first listen, the song feels very stream of consciousness, with Bob reeling off, well, absolutely everything rumbling in his head about his life from the seemingly trivial (“I eat fast foods”) to the profound (“I sleep with life and death in the same bed”) and listing the sounds, pages, and images that have enveloped and defined it. And yes, the sound you just heard was Bob explaining the meaning of life in under 5 minutes because unlike the rest of us, he can just do that.

Australian singer-songwriter Emma Swift has recorded an album of Dylan covers titled Blonde on the Tracks which is set for release in August. And the first track she opted to release was not a familiar classic but a stunningly warm, heartfelt version of “I Contain Multitudes.” She serves it up as a hypnotic, melodic hymn, very reminiscent in style of vintage Gillian Welch, resulting in something exceptionally beautiful.
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Jun 192020
 

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!

While The Isley Brothers are commonly filed under Soul or R&B, that categorization only partially reflects what they have delivered soundwise since the release of their first album way back in 1959. We all know how this works: basically, whatever genre your biggest hits fall into will then by default define who you are to the world forevermore. And because their most popular songs are of the soul shouter-disco/funk-quiet storm variety, they have been conveniently stuffed into the singular genre of Soul/R&B. But in the case of the Isleys, this cut-and-dried categorization is exceptionally misleading. Which is to say, while their ’60s hits “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You) and “Shout Pts. & 2” remain their highest ranking tracks in terms of Spotify plays, they are hardly reflective of the true, signature Isley sound, a perfect melding of topical Rock & Soul that remains unmatched to this day. Make no mistake (and with all due respect to their former Motown label mates, The Temptations and The Four Tops), The Isley Brothers were a proper band. Like The Beatles or The Stones. A classic old school, turn the amp up to 11, self-contained, smokin’, genre-defying band.

This is just a roundabout way of saying  if you want to know what the Isleys are really about sonically and philosophically, it’s best to avoid the greatest hits playlists and head straight for the string of positively seminal studio albums the band released from 1971-1976. There were 6 in total over that time, beginning with Givin’ It Back and running on through to 1976’s Harvest For The World. It is there you will meet O’Kelly, Rudolph, Ronald, Ernie, Marvin and Chris Jasper, the real Isley Brothers.
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Jun 052020
 

Off the Beaten Path looks at covers of songs from a less popular era in an artist’s career.

joni mitchell in the 80s

The ’80s were a markedly confusing and dark time for many of the music world’s more established and beloved artists. The new decade brought a seismic shift in pop sights and sounds that included the arrival of “The Second British Invasion” in the U.S., featuring the likes of Duran Duran, Eurythmics and Culture Club. This guy called Prince began his reign/rain, and Madonna Louise Ciccone launched her complete world takeover. And oh yeah, there was this other thing, a behemoth called MTV that took near complete control of music culture (as well as my own teen brain). The garish, glossy videos they showed 24/7 became as crucial to an artist’s success as radio airplay. And so, like some musical equivalent of Logan’s Run, any musician over 30 suddenly seemed genuinely old indeed. The acoustic sounds that had been so mega and pervasive only a handful of years before all of a sudden sounded criminally dated. Continue reading »