Jan 232018
 

review dr demento covered in punkLet’s be blunt: No one needs novelty songs.

Loosely defined as “a satirical or comedic parody of popular music,” most people instinctively leave the room – or the house – at the first whiff.

Or do they? What, then, explains the enduring popularity of Dr. Demento, querulous-voiced prankster and legitimate, if puzzling, cultural icon? A rock ’n roll writer, label A&R man, and sometime roadie, he began broadcasting a rock and oldies show at Pasadena station KPPC in 1970. He quickly found that the novelty songs he slipped in – notably Nervous Norvus’ “Transfusion,” a truly demented tale about reckless driving, and a precursor to the Cramps’ psychobilly – were what his listeners really wanted to hear.

Now 76, Dr. Demento – a.k.a. Barret Eugene Hansen – ceased terrestrial radio broadcast in 2010, though his program persists online. And now we’re treated to Dr. Demento Covered in Punk, by some counts his 15th official album release. If you’re already hooked on the good doctor’s offbeat charms, you’re likely not in need of encouragement to purchase this collection of supposedly “punk” covers (more on that later) interspersed with the Doctor’s commentary. But can we rightfully recommend this 2+ hour compilation to the rest of the record-buying public? The answer, surprisingly, is: “Yes!” Sort of.

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Jan 182018
 

captain beefheart coversIt’s a safe bet that for many Captain Beefheart fans, the very idea of covering the late Don Van Vliet’s compositions (or aping his, shall we say, “raw” vocal stylings) is bloody sacrilege. Trout Mask Replica, certainly his best-known album – or at least the one most referenced, if not actually listened to all the way through – is a bewildering, nearly unmitigated stream-of-consciousness jazz/rock/skronk blast. It’s made all the more compelling by the fact that it was, in fact, carefully composed and then dictated by Van Vliet, who was barely competent on any instrument save harmonica and, perhaps, saxophone. Fascinating? Definitely. Coverable? Not so much.

Now, almost exactly seven years after Van Vliet’s passing from complications of multiple sclerosis, The World of Captain Beefheart takes a game stab at reimagining his oeuvre; it could perhaps be labeled a “semi-covers” project, in that one of the two principals, Gary Lucas, was Van Vliet’s last musical collaborator, as well as being his co-manager.

But it’s the choice of vocalist Nona Hendryx that takes what could have been a relatively safe retread—if any of Beefheart’s compositions could truly be called “safe”—and spins it into a revealing, largely successful reframing of Van Vliet’s imposing musical legacy. If the average pop fan knows her, it’s as one third of ’70s R&B act LaBelle. But the majority of her career has been spent on artier pursuits than one might expect from one of the singers of “Lady Marmalade.” After the group split in 1976, Hendryx would go on to perform with Talking Heads, Material, and other art-rock notables. Continue reading »

Dec 072017
 

Cripes, quite how do I put this with sufficient diplomacy?

Some of you may have been drawn to this record by their knowledge of Jim James’ main band My Morning Jacket. Some of you, like me, may be interested based on the strength and range of the titles covered by Jim James. For it is an eclectic selection. Broadway to the Beach Boys, Emerson, Lake and Palmer to Sonny and Cher. And, yes, of course some Dylan. Catnip for covers lovers from the mainman in a bonafide cool hipster band.

Realizing it is almost 15 years since I last bought an album by My Morning Jacket, 2003’s It Still Moves, I wonder whether there has been, um, a change of direction in the intervening years. I somehow assumed they had stuck fast in their Skynyrd/Shakey hybrid. Or maybe Jim James – or “Yim Yames”, as I recall with a shudder he briefly rechristened himself a decade ago – keeps this other side for solo stuff like this. I am uncertain whether these interpretations are weird or just wonky, largely played so straight and so simply as to reveal more his weaknesses than his strengths as a singer. Which is a pity, as he has a fine, if limited voice. Continue reading »

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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