Sep 012017
 

Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer have released a new record, Not Dark Yet. It has been out a week or two, and I’m surprised this hasn’t yet had much shout here, unless the sole original song discounts the inclusion of this consummate otherwise all-covers showpiece. Neither of the two sisters (for they are) are strangers to a cover, each producing an example within their already expansive repertoires, Shelby with her exquisite reimagining of Dusty Springfield on 2009’s “Just a Little Lovin’,” and Allison with her “Mockingbird” the year before.

Intriguingly, this is their first studio joint performance, although they have appeared together on stage. There is talk of a previous falling out, but if so, it looks as if they have found each other and then some, their voices melding as only kin can. Some commentators have name-checked the Everly Brothers. That is no hyperbole. But this is so much more than a meeting of two voices, the choice of material helping Not Dark Yet rise above the play-it-by-numbers country feast they could have produced in their sleep, not that that couldn’t or wouldn’t have been good. By picking songs by Nick Cave and Kurt Cobain, amongst others, as well as choosing a latter-day Dylan song (the title track), Lynne and Moorer show their chops to be way beyond Nashville. OK, so we have some Townes and some Merle, even the Louvin Brothers, but also, in the opener, a track from the Killers. There is also a track by current golden boy Jason Isbell. It all works, as does the sole self-penned track, by Shelby, outlining their already-well-told childhood domestic chaos.

If that were not enough, the production and arrangements are top notch, thanks to Teddy (son of Richard) Thompson taking the producer’s chair (and not a few background vocals besides). The band for the sessions is a slew of some of the normal culprits for quality product in this vein, Benmont Tech (the Heartbreakers) on swirling keyboards, Doug Pettibone (Lucinda Williams go-to guitarist), and Michael Jerome and Taras Prodaniuk, from Teddy’s dad’s band. The sound is magnificent, complementing the vocals, aiding and abetting this essential release.

Not Dark Yet song listing:
1. My List (The Killers cover)
2. Every Time You Leave (The Louvin Brothers cover)
3. Not Dark Yet (Bob Dylan cover)
4. I’m Looking For Blue Eyes (Jessi Colter cover)
5. Lungs (Townes Van Zandt cover)
6. The Color of a Cloudy Day (Jason Isbell cover)
7. Silver Wings (Merle Haggard cover)
8. Into My Arms (Nick Cave cover)
9. Lithium (Nirvana cover) 5
10. Is It Too Much (Shelby Lynne original)

You can purchase Not Dark Yet on Amazon.

Jul 142017
 

If you are a regular reader of this site, you may remember this post from a couple months back, about the (to my ears) hotly anticipated shared project between English folkstrel Olivia Chaney and Portland quirkmeisters the Decemberists. Well, the lovely people at Nonesuch have now released Offa Rex’s The Queen of Hearts, and mighty fine it is too.

Chaney may not be especially well known to many, unless you were lucky enough to catch the last round of occasional Joe Boyd-curated Nick Drake tribute shows, featuring a host of singers and musicians from varied sources. Chaney was undoubtedly one of the stars of the one I saw, alongside company like Glen Hansard and Sam “Iron and Wine” Beam. This led me to her 2015 release, The Longest River, which I can commend. The Decemberists are much better known and have long been drawn to the canon of trad.arr., especially singer Colin Meloy. Indeed, one might surmise the seeds for Offa Rex were sown by a tour-only EP Meloy produced in 2006, Colin Meloy Sings Shirley Collins. Indeed, Meloy says he invited Chaney to the table by suggesting in a tweet that his band be her Albion Country Band. Queen of Hearts shows them not making a half-bad shot of it, with side-orders aplenty of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, not to mention a little of fellow U.S. travelers 10,000 Maniacs on the keyboard swirl of “Bonnie May.”
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May 052017
 

cover stories brandi carlileTen years ago Brandi Carlile released her second album, The Story. Lovingly produced by T-Bone Burnett, The Story is heavy on relationships, heartbreak, and unrealized potential. Songs so beautiful they can float right on past unless you’ve recently fallen in or out of love or struggled with a complex friendship. But if your guard is down, your heart is broken, or your confidence rattled, The Story can be a powerful and cathartic experience. Last month we shared songs from Dolly Parton, Pearl Jam, and Adele, when we teased the latest War Child benefit project in which a hand-picked, all-star cast covers The Story in its entirety. That album, Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of The Story-An Album to Benefit War Child, is released today.
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Dec 052016
 

bluelonesomeI can’t believe you won’t have already read or heard at least a hundred reviews of Blue & Lonesome, an 11th-hour reprieve for the best rock and roll band in the world, burning up column inches and airspace across the world. And all so uniformly and fawningly good, too. Where are the naysayers? Well, not here, I fear, for this is the real deal.

It’s true, from when it was first announced, I so wanted and wished it to be good, because I am a Rolling Stones fan, even (well, mostly) through the years of drought. Then, as the promo reviews were released, I faltered – could it really be so? Yesterday morning it arrived on my doormat and my anticipations soared. First track in, “Just Your Fool,” and I knew it. The Stones have cracked it. Combined age et cetera et cetera, laughter lines and all, bang bang bang, easy, job done.
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Nov 182016
 

Let All The Children BoogieAny collection of a popular artist’s songs presented as children’s music should always be approached with some level of trepidation. And with good reason, given the glut of inanely saccharine covers delivered either by children and twee instrumentation or adults pandering to the younger demographics. The latter case is perhaps the most egregious, as these adults seem to believe that the only way in which to create music kids will understand is to severely dumb down the content and up the intolerably cartoonish elements of the worst of so-called children’s music performers. The question often becomes, Why subject your children to these atrociously subpar re-imaginings of popular songs when the originals are vastly superior and just as accessible?

Thankfully, the folks at Spare the Rock Records seem to have felt the same with regard to the world of children’s music and, rather than adding to the pap currently clogging the marketplace, have ventured to release music aimed at children but ideally suited for the whole family. And there is perhaps no better artist, save perhaps the Beatles, for whom this approach is ideally suited than David Bowie. With his passing in January of 2016, he left a gaping void in the musical landscape, one artists across myriad genres have, in the months since, sought to fill in the form of countless tributes, think pieces, and heartfelt expressions of admiration.

And while we may have lost the man himself, we will always have his music. His is a catalog so vast and stylistically diverse as to perfectly warrant the stylistically diverse assemblage of artists and styles gather here on the newly-issued Let All the Children Boogie. Stripped to their barest elements and rebuilt in individually idiosyncratic ways, the work of David Bowie presented here remains wholly recognizable, yet affords listeners an entirely new way of hearing these well-known songs. Continue reading »

Oct 282016
 

alr-0039_grandeWhen Elliott Smith was alive, nobody covered his music. He covered a lot of musicians himself, but whether it was considered sacrilegious to cover his songs or there was a lack of interest, it’s hard to say. I know, because after finally getting on the Elliott bandwagon after hearing “Waltz #2” on MTV in the late ’90s, I was hooked, and searched Napster in vain for cover songs of his work. The drought of Elliott Smith covers outlasted Napster (or at least the first incarnation), but now both are reborn again.

As a cover fan AND a Smith fan, it’s often a road of sorrows. I’ve written about Elliott Smith before, of course, and that’s because there’s way more attention paid to him post-mortem, and thus more covers are recorded of his music. The drawback is that while I’m all for artists repurposing songs to their own liking, there is so much nuance in Smith’s output that many cover songs sound like the stereotypical photocopy of a photocopy: all of the emotion and heart is lost. However, that’s changed for the better over the years, and now culminates in the fantastic compilation Say Yes! A Tribute to Elliott Smith (American Laundromat Records). Continue reading »