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 »

Oct 252016
 

John Scofield Country for Old MenOK, let’s not mess around, but is this not the best title of the year, that alone nearly enough to nail it for me as an essential purchase? And John Scofield has the billiest billy goatee ever on the sleeve, delineating this is one cool (old) dude. (Actually I was quite disappointed he is only 64.) But don’t get carried away here, this is not country music in any received sense of the word, country in anything other than the songs, which are all instrumental, suggesting some knowledge (and love, probably) of their original. And these versions take the merest slip of melody and fire it up into the sky, a 52 card pick-up, a melange of a snippet here and a snippet there into a, yes, damn it, hard jazz explosion. I know I have now lost most readers with the J word, it seldom getting much of a shout in these pages. But maybe this is the day someone takes a chance. So come on in, the water’s lovely.
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Oct 072016
 

essentials Scott Bradlee deserves a victory lap. For five years as the founder and leader of Postmodern Jukebox, he’s taken the hits of today and given them the vintage sounds of yesteryear, with the assistance of many very talented friends. His live-in-the-living-room rearrangements have earned him more than half a billion views on YouTube, all without major label support or corporate sponsorship. You would think that The Essentials, a collection of greatest hits, would be an ideal capper to this remarkable achievement.

But there’s still the sense that Bradlee has something to prove – he’s looking to place this album high on the Billboard charts as he takes PMJ on its North American tour this month. “No more talk of Postmodern Jukebox as a ‘YouTube act,’ or ‘online viral sensation,'” he says. “This is real, we’re here to stay, and we’re ready to change the music industry.”
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Jul 052016
 

train led zepThe whole reason for a good cover to exist at all is that it takes the original source material, gets to the heart of the song, and extracts the most important elements, which are then refashioned in the image of the cover artist. There must be an element of band or artist doing the covering within the cover itself; otherwise it’s simply a note-for-note recreation of a superior (often iconically so) performance. Furthermore, there’s little in the way of artistry behind strict recreations of popular music. This approach is little more than an impression that ultimately serves little to no purpose aside from existing to remind listeners how much better the original was, is and always will be.

For a band like Train – whose music has served as the backdrop for innumerable cloying “romantic” moments in film, television and perhaps even real life – to take on the decidedly heavier sounds of Led Zeppelin would initially seem like something of a joke. What qualifies the group behind such saccharine megahits like “Drops of Jupiter” and the insufferable “Soul Sister” to cover a band like Led Zeppelin, let alone replicate an entire album? Well, it seems that when you reach the level Train has, you can do pretty much whatever you want and no one will question you.
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Jun 282016
 

to_emmylou_coverTo Emmylou, the Fleeing Ghost Records’ compilation of LA-based artists covering the songs of Emmylou Harris, features eleven reverential performances. Each of the largely unknown artists collected here do a fine job of recasting her songs, both those well-known and those that run a little deeper, in a contemporary framework without sacrificing the heart and soul of the original. Not surprisingly, the primary focus throughout is on each artist’s voice, something for which Harris has long been known both on her own, as a collaborator and as one of the finest interpreters of Americana.

Fittingly then, opening track “Timberline” from Harris’ 1985 release The Ballad of Sally Rose is performed by the Silver Lake Chorus. Unfettered by musical accompaniment, the chorus of voices help establish the primary focus of the collection from the start. And while there are plenty of fine instrumental performances throughout, the over-arching element running through these songs – performed in styles ranging from straight country to contemplative indie rock – is the purity of the human voice. And in this case, the “voice” in question is that of Harris as a songwriter, something that is occasionally lost due to her high-profile collaborations and the immaculate nature of her voice.
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