Jul 252019
 

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

McLemore Avenue

From their earliest records, The Beatles acknowledged their debt to the African-American artists who informed their sound. Much of their first two records were a tour through soul, R&B, and female vocal groups. By the end of the 1960s, as The Beatles were breaking up, African-American musicians were paying back the tribute by performing covers of the Fab Four.

One such notable cover was the entire album reinterpretation of Abbey Road by Booker T. & the MGs titled McLemore Avenue. The entire artistry of this album is an homage to Abbey Road. Released in April 1970 when The Beatles officially broke up, McLemore Avenue is like a musical funeral for the band and for the decade that they, in part, helped to define.
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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 082019
 

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

dead mans town

Did you hear “Born in the U.S.A.” at your Fourth of July BBQ? Maybe a diehard Springsteen fan even played the full album. It certainly packs a punch; seven of the album’s twelve songs became top-10 hit singles. Taking patriotism to a whole new level, this album was even the first commercial CD made in the United States. 

Marking the 30th anniversary of the Born in the U.S.A. album, Dead Man’s Town was released in 2014 with the premise that the original album was so good that, as Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars states, “any of those songs could be played with acoustic guitar alone and still be great.”

Rolling Stone described the album as “reimagining Born in the U.S.A.… with a reduced approach more influenced by that of the acoustic Nebraska.” This cover album certainly would have followed Nebraska more congruously than the original Born in the U.S.A., which marked a departure from Springsteen’s earlier work yet brought him his greatest commercial success.

Dead Man’s Town captures the melancholy aspects of the Fourth of July, a holiday that marks the inflection point of the summer. Summer love is bending towards goodbye. Back to school advertisements abound. If you are looking for a soundtrack to summer’s end or a new take on your favorite Springsteen classics, this is the album for you. Here is a taste of what this album has to offer.

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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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Mar 082019
 

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

Wikipedia reports that Imaginary Records, an indie label founded 1985 in Manchester, England, specialized in indie rock and post-punk. What it really specialized in, though, was tribute albums. Roughly a third of their album catalog saluted other artists. These ranged from the usual suspects (Dylan, the Stones) to decidedly unusual ones (Captain Beefheart, Syd Barrett).

In 1992, they released Brittle Days: A Tribute to Nick Drake. This was at a time when Drake was still more a cult favorite than a favorite. Anyone who bought the album was as likely to be being introduced to Drake as to the artists singing his songs therein. These artists were themselves destined to remain cult favorites; no future jackpots here like there were on Imaginary Records’ first Velvet Underground tribute. Instead, devotees expressed their devotion to other devotees, resulting in an album that was quiet, reverent, and more than a little haunting.

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Dec 072018
 

Cover Classics takes a look at great covers albums of the past, their genesis and their legacies.

Black Friday may have gone, but here’s a twofer bargain.

Cat Power, aka Chan Marshall, has produced two near-full album cover classics in her career (so far), which doesn’t even begin to fully address her never-more-quirky approach to the songs of others. Not that she is lost for any words of her own! She’s got a back catalogue stretching across many styles and many genres, from raw scratchy indie through slinky southern soul, a touch of electronica and back again, yet always unmistakably herself. Her career has seen her seemingly beset by internal demons; many had written her off until her triumphant return this fall with Wanderer, containing ten of her own songs, and one contender for our Cover Songs of the Year post.

But it is back to 2000 we first go, to The Covers Record. Allegedly a disappointment to her record company, who had appreciated this was an artiste worth their investment, but even with lackluster promotion it became a slow burning triumph. Praise and plaudits accumulated over the years, not least as box set dramas required ever more diverse musical accompaniments.
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