Patrick Robbins

Patrick Robbins lives in Maine, where he moves through life with the secure knowledge that, as Penn Jillette said, "In all of art, it's the singer, not the song," On Wednesdays he goes shopping, and has buttered scones for tea. He is the author of the novel To Make Others Happy.

Nov 172017
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

It’s hard to comprehend that Jeff Buckley should be 51 years old today. He’s forever frozen in our mind’s eye, no older than 30 (still, a couple years older than his father Tim got to be), at the peak of his beauty and talent. These days he’s best known for a cover song (three guesses which one, first two don’t count), but he was no slouch with a pen himself – “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over,” from Grace, was less a breakup ballad than a broken-up ballad, one that showcased remarkable imagery and a truly painful longing just as surely as it showcased Buckley’s remarkable voice.

“Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” gets a lot of covers from YouTube artists, most of them determined to follow in Buckley’s footsteps; this leads to such faithfulness that the covers tend to have a sameness to them, no matter how expressive the performer. But a few manage to break free from Buckley’s binds…

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Oct 202017
 

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

exile on main street

It’s a bit overrated, to be honest. Compared to Let it Bleed and Beggars Banquet, which I think are more of a piece, I don’t see it’s as thematic as the other two. I’m not saying it’s not good. It doesn’t contain as many outstanding songs as the previous two records. I think the playing’s quite good. It’s got a raw quality, but I don’t think all around it’s as good. – Mick Jagger

Every time I (choose my favorite Stones album), I keep thinking about the ones I’m leaving out. It’s like babies. But if I’ve got to pick one I’ll say – and you can take it with a large dose of salt – Exile. Because of its amazing spirit, the incredible amount of enthusiasm and screw-you-ing, You can throw us out but you can’t get rid of us. – Keith Richards

Now seen as a masterpiece, Exile on Main Street has been getting mixed reviews for most of its life, and not just from its creators. Lester Bangs wrote a review calling it “at once the worst studio album the Stones have ever made, and the most maddeningly inconsistent and strangely depressing release of their career”; later, he wrote, “I practically gave myself an ulcer and hemorrhoids, too, trying to find some way to like it. Finally I just gave up, wrote a review that was almost a total pan, and tried to forget about the whole thing. A couple weeks later, I went back to California, got a copy just to see if it might’ve gotten better, and it knocked me out of my chair. Now I think it’s possibly the best Stones album ever.”

Now the critics of yesteryear who trashed Exile have turned into critics calling the record overrated. But that’s a hard criticism to support. The record shows the Stones at their bravest and least calculated, playing blues, gospel, country, boogie, good old rock ‘n’ roll, even a couple of covers, as if the music exuded from deep inside their selves. These multiple genres weren’t accoutrements to dress up in as the mood struck, but were part of the sweat and grime that hung in the air and coated the basement walls at Nellcote as the Stones recorded there.
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Sep 182017
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

Grant Hart

Last week Grant Hart, who first won fame as the drummer for Hüsker Dü and went on to release music on his own and with Nova Mob, died of liver cancer at the age of 56. His bandmate Bob Mould, with who he shared a fractious but fruitful relationship, paid tribute by calling him “a gifted visual artist, a wonderful story teller, and a frighteningly talented musician. Everyone touched by his spirit will always remember.”

The list of those touched by Hart’s spirit number in the thousands upon thousands – not just the legions of fans who latched onto his songs back in the ’80s, but the musicians who were inspired enough by his work to cover it. What follows are some of those covers – and one cover of Hart’s.
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Aug 182017
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

long distance salvation

Nebraska is the Bruce Springsteen album that it’s cool to like. Springsteen’s previous album, The River, had his biggest hit in “Hungry Heart,” and he was ready to break huge. Instead, he released an album that was literally a demo on a cassette, with all the intimacy and intensity that that entails. “I was interested in writing kind of smaller than I had been,” Springsteen said, and that’s what he did with Nebraska, focusing on individuals in trouble with an intensity that was more cathartic than a mostly-acoustic album would be expected to carry.

The respect that Nebraska has gained over the past three and a half decades has been equally split among fans, critics, and artists. The latter have saluted the album multiple ways, including a 2000 release from Sub Pop called Badlands, a full-album tribute that featured artists from Johnny Cash to Chrissie Hynde to Los Lobos. It had its moments, but a much smaller release called Long Distance Salvation did a much better job at conveying the original’s impact, even as it expanded on Springsteen’s work.
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Aug 042017
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

In an era when synth-pop was what ruled the British roost, the opening guitar lick to the Smiths’ “This Charming Man” was an invigorating splash of cool, clear water to the face. The band’s second single, written for one of John Peel’s BBC radio sessions, began with Johnny Marr’s ringing introduction and kept up a bright, danceable pace, while Morrissey crooned lyrics (including a line nicked from the Laurence Olivier / Michael Caine movie Sleuth) that were coquettish, poetic, and different from anything on the charts. “Early Elvis would have approved of the music, [Oscar] Wilde of the words,” writes allmusic.com, “an audacious end result by any standard.”

“I wince a bit when I hear it now,” Marr later said. “It only tells the shiny side of the story, it in no way epitomizes what was good about the band in the long term. But God bless it though, it seemed to catch on with a lot of people.”
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Jul 282017
 

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

sly and the family stone

Sly and the Family Stone hadn’t recorded anything new in a year, and the record label wanted to keep Sly’s name in the public consciousness – and if they could make a little money in the bargain, so much the better. So they put together Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits. If not a cynical cash grab, it was at least within smelling distance.

But a funny thing happened – they scooped up some of the best singles of the sixties, when Sly Stone was writing songs emphasizing the coming together of all races, creeds, and colors into one big party, and the result was what Robert Christgau called “among the greatest rock and roll LPs of all time.” In his A+ review, he went on:

The rhythms, the arrangements, the singing, the playing, the production, and–can’t forget this one–the rhythms are inspirational, good-humored, and trenchant throughout, and on only one cut (“Fun”) are the lyrics merely competent. Sly Stone’s gift for irresistible dance songs is a matter of world acclaim, but his gift for political anthems that are uplifting but never simplistic or sentimental is a gas. And oh yeah–his rhythms are amazing.

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