Seuras Og

Seuras Og is an old enough to know better family Dr in Birmingham, UK, having taken the easy option of medicine upon failure to get work in a record store. By now drowning in recorded music, he has thought it about time to waste the time of others in his passion here, as well as in his own blog, www.retropathology.blogspot.com

Aug 112019
 

Karine Polwart is a not a folk singer. Yes, she performs, arguably, in the folk tradition, but by and large, she sings her own material, covering weighty topics such as sex trafficking and depression, somehow contriving an upbeat mood to these often gloomy subjects. Fiercely intelligent, she is fit to stand alongside other Scottish songwriters, such as Dick Gaughan and Michael Marra. Apart from her own material, it has been from the canon of trad.arr. that she has drawn most inspiration, as well as a hefty number of the songs of Rabbie Burns. So I would say that Polwart’s new album Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook has come as a bit of a surprise to most. And it is the modern Scottish songbook she applies herself to, not broadsheets and bothy ballads. Indeed, apart from John Martyn’s 1973 song “Don’t Want to Know,” the earliest song on the album, Songbook draws nothing from any conspicuously folkie background. The catholic selection ranges through the Waterboys and the Blue Nile to current electro-poppers Chvrches and the eccentric oddball poet Ivor Cutler. No Rod Stewart, some may be pleased to recognize.
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Aug 092019
 

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

blondie parallel lines covers

It’s been a mere 41 years since Parallel Lines was released, a fact that finds this writer flat on his back. How can it possibly be that long? But is is and it was, 1978 being a particularly good year for Blondie, themselves already far from spring chickens.

Debbie Harry, astonishingly already 33, just two years younger than Mick Jagger (and two older than Ronnie Wood), was the mother hen of the band, together with her partner, Chris Stein, half a decade younger. The pair of them and drummer Clem Burke, were the heart of the band, and the only omnipresent members, rounded out at that time by keyboardist Jimmy Destri, guitarist Frank Infante, and bassist Nigel Harrison. Of course they all hated each other and all hated their producer, Mike Chapman, drafted in for this record to widen their appeal.

This would be the band’s third album, the first two having been helmed by Richard Gottehrer, who maximized their punky charm and promise, turning them into the counter-intuitive leaders of the pack at and from Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s. Chapman, an Australian, had produced UK chart toppers like the Sweet, exiled Music City maven Suzi Quatro, and Mud; he was immensely successful, but looked down upon by any serious musician or fan.

In truth, they didn’t actually all hate each other, Stein was allegedly far too stoned to know much of what was going on, but there was no love lost elsewhere, not least as Chapman felt that Infante was the only one up to it, musically. Burke could not keep time, it seemed; Destri couldn’t play; and whatever Harrison could or couldn’t do, Chapman’s criticism was enough to have Harrison throw a synthesiser at him. But Harry could sing, that much Chapman could sense, carefully restricting her involvement to both protect her voice and prevent costly meltdowns, weeping in the restroom.

Despite all of this, Parallel Lines still came in a full 4 months ahead of schedule, and, amazingly, this line-up and Chapman went on to make four more albums before the band’s 1982 disintegration. It wasn’t until 15 years later they reformed, the original trio with (for a while) Destri, augmented by any number of additional sidemen. They still play on.
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Jul 122019
 

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

Bad Shepherds

Confession time: it took a while for the Bad Shepherds’ Yan, Tan, Tethera, Methara to sink in. For one thing, there are rather too many novelty covers projects for comfort, from the initially inventive Hayseed Dixie to the downright bizarre Rockabye lullaby renditions. For another thing, bandleader Adrian “Ade” Edmondson is better known as a comic actor, from The Young Ones to Bottom, and is the husband of Jennifer “Absolutely Fabulous” Saunders. The whole affair smacked of novelty and nonsense, setting all my prejudices bristling. And so it remained, my ears deaf to compromise.

But I hadn’t realized a number of things. Firstly, Edmondson was both a genuine lover of both folk music and of the punk and new wave he interprets in that genre. Not such an odd combination as it sounds, broadly similar to my own tastes, we being of similar ages and backgrounds. But rather than combining with other hobby musicians, Edmondson hooked up with a giant in the tradition, Troy Donockley, an Englishman adept on the Irish uillean pipes, with a track record playing alongside prog-rockers The Enid, Celtic rockers Iona and with doyenne of the Northumbrian pipes, Kathryn Tickell. Since 2013 he has been a member of Finnish band Nightwish.

Whilst nominally a duo, they enlisted Andy Dinan on fiddle, a onetime all-Ireland fiddle champion, for this album and the subsequent 2009 tour, with the late Maartin Allcock, erstwhile of Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull (both at once!), appearing on guitars when available. Edmondson played mandolin and sang, claiming to be a novice on both instruments. Rather than any straight ahead thrash, the arrangements were both sensitive to the originals, and respectful to the tradition, the insertion of many a traditional air going neither unnoticed nor uncredited. And neither was this any folk-rock lumpen jig and reel fest; the arrangements captured the heart and soul of the listener, rather than merely their feet.

Two further records appeared in 2010 and 2013, based largely on the accolades given the project, with votes as best live act at the BBC Radio 2 Folk awards in 2010, and the same for Spiral Earth, a website devoted to music festivals of all genres, in 2012. But it is this first recording that hits hardest the spot as a cover classic, the choices of songs being exemplary and the performances uplifting.
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Jul 032019
 

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.

With its distinctive mandolin intro, “Losing My Relgion” is arguably R.E.M.’s most instantly recognizable song, certainly the most recognizable ahead of needing the never-more-idiosyncratic vocal of Michael Stipe to nail the ID-ing. It’s also their most successful, marking the band’s only visit into the hallowed Top Five of Billboard‘s Hot 100. My only disappointment with the song is that I find I cannot frame a Five Good Covers piece around it.

Oh, it has certainly been covered enough – upward of 77 chronicled in the covers bible, Second Hand Songs – but sadly, tragically even, most are poor anodyne recreations of the original, to my mind lacking the charisma and charm that make the original by these four Athenians such an iconic piece of work. And then there are a few that try to imbue a whole different ambience, failing pyrrhically in the process. (Yes, that’s you, Rozalla.) Throat singing death metal, anyone? Gregorian chant?

But here are three that take some liberties, yet manage to add rather than subtract from the joy inherent in the melody.
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Jun 272019
 

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

Gravelands

I’ve chucked a couple of these into the odd “best covers” choices since we have been doing those, meeting with not a little interest, if likewise not a lot, but sufficient enough interest to feel it worth digging a tad deeper into the repertoire of Jim “The King” Brown, Belfast’s singing postman. With a name like his, clearly there was little option other than to pursue a career as an Elvis Presley tribute act, and his days as postman were short-lived. Caught performing in a local pub by Bap Kennedy, brother of Brian, both notable in the local music scene, he was given both a shove and the opportunity, Kennedy producing.

Now, Elvis impersonators are two a penny in any country you choose to tread, so Jim, whose voice is as close to his source as any I am familiar with, needed a trick to be a step ahead, and the one he chose was a doozy. He picked out songs that Elvis should have covered, and, further to that, songs by or featuring artists similarly deceased. You know the idea, the concept of the celestial band “up there,” featuring the best of the dead, playing together and having a blast. (Sorry, that’s not best of the Dead, capital D, but I am sure Jerry would be a shoo-in for any such band, if not the myriad keyboards men in his old band.)
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Jun 112019
 

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

Dr John

Having watched the glorious images of New Orleans saying goodbye to their very own Dr. John, Mac Rebennack, it was daunting for me to try to do justice to his legacy with a piece on “I Walk on Gilded Splinters,” arguably the best known of his songs. Scarcely the most representative, it was the highlight, I guess, of his 1968 debut Gris Gris, owing more to the voodoo priest persona that gave him his break than to his latter-day body of work. It’s the song that casual fans, upon hearing the news of his death, might have known best through cover versions (by Humble Pie or by Paul Weller, depending on their age) as they asked who he was. (“The guy from Treme might actually be a commoner answer………)

But is it any good? Well, yes, of course it’s good, nothing quite like it having made the charts previously, and it was a hit – just not for its writer.
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