Nov 152019
 

JHsingsThePoliceJuliana Hatfield Sings the PoliceJuliana Hatfield Sings the Police is the latest (second) in, now, what must be a series of such projects, her JH Sings Olivia Newton-John being released barely 18 months ago. Eclecticism clearly a calling card, the sweepstakes on whomsoever is next in line must have long odds: Metallica? The Beach Boys? Putting such thoughts aside, Hatfield has always had a way with covers, quirky versions of songs peppered throughout her long and varied career. We’ve commented upon this here many a time; I even gave her a grudging shout-out in a recent Led Zeppelin Five Good Covers piece on “Rock and Roll.”

I have always considered her together with Evan Dando, either the mythology or my imagination suggesting she perpetually the good girl to his bad boy, just saying no to anything other than close musical collaboration. It’s a good story oft played, bringing each a shared notoriety, fueled by their somehow always seeming to find themselves together on a stage, whether planned or otherwise. A child of the late 70’s, she purportedly acquired her love of music from a babysitter, who introduced her to the works of L.A. punks X. Kicking off her career in 1992, with the eponymous Juliana Hatfield, guess who was already alongside, as one of the guitarists and singers (Hatfield’s main instrument being the bass guitar)? If you guessed Evin Dandow, you really need to work on your spelling.

Whilst he didn’t appear on the follow-up, the debut by the Juliana Hatfield Three, or the subsequent eight albums, credited solely in her name, Hatfield cropped up a fair bit on or in Dando’s releases, notably the two biggest and most influential of his Lemonheads releases, It’s a Shame About Ray and Come On Feel the Lemonheads, in 2002 and 2003 respectively. 2012 saw another record, called merely Juliana Hatfield (confusingly, as that was her debut’s name too), which was all covers, from which the aforementioned “Rock and Roll” hailed, along with staples from Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Who, as well as lesser known fare from Teenage Fanclub and Liz Phair. A couple more solo efforts and the second JH3 record dropped 22 years after the first, followed by the ONJ tribute. And yet another solo release, so she can never be accused of being idle. In her spare time she has also been part of other bands and collaborations, notably the Blake Babies and Some Girls. Phew!
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Oct 282019
 

jenn champion the blue albumI’ll pull no punches: Janiva Magness is one of the best blues voices you maybe won’t have heard of. Despite being only the second ever female artist to win the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award, she has been operating largely under the mainstream radar since the early ’90s, quietly building up steam, aided and abetted of late by the retro chops of Brian Setzer/Dan Hicks producer, Dave Darling. Now, with Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty: Change in the Weather, she sets out to cover the work of a voice that’s been hears far more often.

Magness has done Fogerty before: she included “Long As I Can See the Light” in her 2016 release, the Grammy-nominated Love Wins Again. Clearly this hit a chord, as this time she runs with a further dozen, both CCR material and some later songs. But make no mistake, this is no cut’n’paste job, settling for substituting her husky vocal for his hoarse holler; rarely does she revisit the swamp-pop murk of the originals, applying instead varied shades of classic blues to the palette, giving new life and, dare I say it, depth. So, rather than the potential overkill of listening to a Creedence greatest hits selection, the varied timbres bring added nuance to the lyrics, bringing forth more — and again I falter — subtlety than the bombast Fogerty and the band gave the material (rightly so in their case, as it worked for the needs of their audience at the time).

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Oct 282019
 

My Darling Clementine is the name of UK husband and wife team of Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish, each with a track record ahead of starting to perform together some nine years ago. King was the leading light of mid-90’s Manchester Americana band, The Good Sons, who managed to take, with relative acclaim, their coals to Newcastle, recording and touring alongside and under the wing of Townes Van Zandt. A later solo career saw him working with Jackie Leven, and a feature of his occasional forays alone sees him play the songs of both Van Zandt and Leven, in a set of two halves. His wife has similarly had a career of her own, notably with her 2001 play “They Call Her Natasha,” self-performed and written and featuring her versions of the songs of Elvis Costello. The songs, some of which crop up on her other albums, also formed the basis of a tour.

Since 2010 they have put out four albums, in sometimes barbed tribute to the male/female, often husband/wife, duets of ’60s Nashville, and these have been extremely well received. The second, The Reconciliation, was described by Country Music People as “the best British Country record ever made.” Now they’re back with Country Darkness, Volume 1.
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Oct 212019
 

Ruston Kelly's Dirt Emo Vol. II was drawn to review Ruston Kelly’s Dirt Emo Vol. 1 by Kelly’s bold move of putting a T-Swift cover on an “emo” cover album. The choice of “All Too Well” was oddly prescient, given Taylor Swift’s recent Tiny Desk performance. To be fair, I dare you to find something more emo than these lines: “Hey, you call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest.” The choice seems less strange once you learn that Kelly is no stranger to country music. He is based in Nashville and has helped pen country songs, including Tim McGraw’s “Nashville Without You.”

Digging into Kelly’s emo cover album, I found that the teaser Taylor song was actually not one of the standouts. Instead, the strength of the album comes from the songs where he specifically taps into his country roots in more unexpected ways. Two songs made me move beyond reminiscing about the originals and allowed me to hear the songs from a new perspective.

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Oct 142019
 

Jenn Champion's The Blue Albumjenn champion the blue albumJenn Champion has gone through many musical identities, performing solo under the names Jenn Ghetto and S, and playing in a band called Carissa’s Wierd. Now she takes on another musical identity–a Weezer cover artist. Her cover album of Weezer’s first album, often dubbed “The Blue Album,” is available through Turntable Kitchen, a vinyl record club. 

Weezer’s debut album got a lot of buzz, coming out a month after the death of Kurt Cobain when the future of rock seemed poised for a change. Rolling Stone named it one of the 500 greatest albums of all time, and Pitchfork gave the original album a 10/10. So, no pressure, Champion. 

If you’ve ever been a bit put off by Rivers Cuomo’s personality, this is the reinterpretation for you. The overall vibe of this cover album is the self-conscious lyrics of old-school Weezer paired with the musical style of Tegan and Sara’s Heartthrob album. Champion’s ambitious project completely pays off; this album is excellent. 

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Sep 232019
 

Alice Cooper BreadcrumbsThe age of Aquarius was dawning in 1969. But the band Alice Cooper watched the sun set on the California shore as a sign that their time out west was over. They relocated to Pontiac, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, in 1970. There, they shifted their musical and theatrical direction away from the psychedelic experimentation. Instead, they embraced a harder-edged rock mixed with a horror show. The Detroit area had been the boyhood home to frontman Vincent Furnier, and it was here that the band from Phoenix by way of Los Angeles was reborn. They found a more welcoming audience and a scene of similarly raucous bands, whose attitudes were forged in the same foundries as the steel in the Big Three’s automobiles.

During a sludgy performance one night, producer Bob Erzin heard Alice Cooper perform what he thought to be “I’m Gritty.” The title fit the nightclub setting and dirty look of the band. But the song title turned out to be “I’m Eighteen,” which was the breakthrough single for the band.

Now, fifty years later, Furnier—who since 1975 has gone by Alice Cooper—has released a new EP as an homage to the Motor City and the pistons of rock and roll. The Breadcrumbs EP released on Friday, September 13. It packs a punch.

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