Jordan Becker

Jordan lives in Tarrytown, NY and enjoys writing about music in his spare time. He has enjoyed discussing music since his first experiences with radio at sleep away camp in the 1970's. A stint as a D.J. and program director at WPRB-FM in the 1980's solidified his love of opining about music, and he has recently begun contributing to music blogs. Some of Jordan's friends think that he has an unhealthy interest in cover songs, so writing for this blog will only confirm this sickness.

Mar 282016
 

desperate timesIs it bad form to promote your own tribute? It almost makes you think about the crass sort of person who, say, slaps his last name on every building, golf course, airline, casino, steak, or bottle of wine or water that he has anything to do with. Now, what about if it is an employee who instigates a tribute to his employer? That seems pretty cool, especially since so many employees would probably be more likely to spit on something that glorifies their bosses than to work, unpaid, to create a monument to them.

So, let’s give kudos to Jeff “Jefe” Neely, the “website guy” for Old 97’s, who decided that it would be a good idea to get other musicians to cover Old 97’s songs and to use the project as a fundraiser for charity: water, whose mission is to “bring clean and safe drinking water to every person in the world.” The charity was founded in 2006 by Scott Harrison, a former nightclub and fashion promoter after a life changing trip to Liberia.

The band got behind the project, which became known as Desperate Times, and helped to get artists to contribute covers to the project, which was funded through a Pledge Music campaign. In fact, many of the artists had toured with Old 97’s at some point in the band’s two-decade-plus career, and a significant number are from Texas, where Old 97’s formed. Not surprisingly, therefore, most of them inhabit a similar Americana/country/rock space as the band they are covering. The contributors, all well-respected artists if not chart-toppers, seem to have embraced the challenge. For the most part, although the covers don’t generally stray too far from the originals, each is distinctive and all are of exceptional quality.
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Jan 302016
 

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!

 marty-balin

Ah, Marty Balin. You have a great, blue-eyed soul voice. You were one of the founders of one of the seminal bands of the 1960s, the Jefferson Airplane. You wrote and sang lead on a number of classic and hit songs. You were knocked unconscious by Hell’s Angels on stage at Altamont. You are a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And yet, if you stopped someone on the street—even someone who grew up during the 60s or 70s—it is likely that your name would be met with a blank stare, while your former bandmate Grace Slick’s probably would be recognized. Although your solo career had a few minor hits, they were few and far between. And you continue to occasionally gig and record with some of your old bandmates, who try to carry on their old sound, with limited success.

But a lack of name recognition, and a relatively indifferent solo career, cannot detract from your accomplishments, Marty. Sure, your star might have dimmed in comparison to Slick’s beautiful, outrageous mess, and you might have lost control of what you created, leaving and returning over the years. But many of your songs have proven to be timeless, while the drug/psychedelic/experimental tunes that surrounded yours on albums now sound dated and even silly.
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Jan 152016
 

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

bonniejohn

“Angel from Montgomery” is one of those songs that’s probably best known from a cover—Bonnie Raitt’s iconic 1974 version (and the many live recordings that have followed). In fact, this article was inspired by hearing Joan Osborne say that for years she was basically intimidated by the Raitt cover from ever performing it herself—until she heard Susan Tedeschi sing it, decided Raitt didn’t own the song, and started including it in her set.
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Oct 162015
 

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

XTC is a difficult band to wrap your head around. Known initially, if at all, for quirky, jerky syncopated new wave songs, they slowly began to change into a band known for lush, intelligent pop songs heavily influenced by the Beatles’ psychedelic period. And, like the Beatles, XTC stopped performing live at what was, to that point, the height of their popularity. Having seen them in action just about a year before they quit touring in 1982, I can attest to the fact that they were an excellent live band. XTC has a devoted and creative fanbase, with exhaustive fan sites and a remarkable number of fan-generated tribute releases, which we will delve into in great detail below.
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Jul 172015
 

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

elvis_nick

Let’s start with a given — the best version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” is a cover. It would be hard to dispute that Elvis Costello’s version is the standard to which all others fall short, including the original. I’ll pause here to allow those readers unaware that Elvis wasn’t the first to record the song to go on the Internet and confirm this. (Don’t feel bad, by the way—we self-proclaimed cover experts don’t know everything, either.) That’s right, the song was written by Nick Lowe and originally recorded by his pub-rock band Brinsley Schwarz and released on the band’s 1974 album The New Favourites of… Brinsley Schwarz. Although Lowe had written the bulk of the songs on the band’s prior five albums, he has claimed that it was the first truly original song that he ever wrote. However, he has admitted to having stolen a lick from Judee Sill’s “Jesus Was a Cross Maker.” (See if you agree.)

Brinsley Schwarz’s version is a Byrds-esque bit of nostalgic folk rock. Lowe wrote it in 1973, when the hippie era of peace and love was being supplanted by harder edges, harder drugs, alcohol and cynicism. As Lowe has said, “this song was supposed to be an old hippie, laughed at by the new thinking, saying to these new smarty-pants types, ‘Look, you think you got it all going on. You can laugh at me, but all I’m saying is ‘What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?’” It is, in that version, a perfectly fine song. But it took a fan of the Brinsleys, who would one day rename himself Elvis Costello, to turn the song into something more. Lowe acknowledged that Costello “brought it to the world, so to speak. Because when he recorded it, he gave it that anthemic quality which everyone reacted really well to.”
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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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