Apr 282020
 

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

Deadicated

Deadicated is so much more than a great covers album; it’s a great album, period. But more, it also heralded the era for covers albums to be more than a leg up for aspiring musicians to get a grip on the slippery pole, by riding on the laurels of another more established act. This was one of the first tribute albums where the great and the good lined up to salute their peers.

But I’ll get back to that. My reasons for it attaining classic status stemming a whole lot more than from the fearsome reputation of the Dead. As a… well, whatever I was, I loved the idea of the Grateful Dead. But over here in Britain, there was no Deadhead culture as such. They came over, what, once? (Yup, Bickershaw Festival, 1972, as at least one contributor to the album knew only too well.) As an avid reader of New Musical Express and Melody Maker, the UK “inkies”, the musical press within whose hallowed pages they were ensured good copy, to me they were just the coolest dudes ever. I’d also read Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and was smitten.

But where to start? In truth, I was daunted, happier to wear the T-shirt than buy the music. I didn’t want it spoilt by any risk of finding the idea to be less than the reality of the dream.

Luckily a trip to Orlando, circa 1987, solved that conundrum, around about the time of In the Dark. Of course, the big hit single helped, even if there were more filler tracks than killer tracks on the album. Clearly I hadn’t quite got that the Dead were more a live experience than a studio band. Still haven’t, really; to this day, listening to live records has never been a great immersive for me. But, praise be, I loved the studio records, snapping up the back catalog.

When Deadicated dropped in 1991, I bought it, unheard. The roster of artists included an impossible array of my favorites: Elvis Costello, Los Lobos, Suzanne Vega, Dr. John, Indigo Girls, Cowboy Junkies and more. Catnip and heaven combined. (Deadicated also served as a benefit for Rainforest Action Network, active to this day, a charity dedicated to the preservation of these vital once macro-climates, shrinking by the day through the scourge of deforestation.)
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Apr 272020
 

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

Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks

To this day, I can still sing along with every single Schoolhouse Rock! song, and I’m sure I’m not alone in knowing that knowledge is power. The series was first aired in the ’70s on Saturday mornings on ABC. It continued until entering a hiatus in 1985. The series then returned in 1993 with new content. After another lull starting in 2000, even more content emerged in 2002 and 2009 including a whole new series, Earth Rock, written to tackle the issue of climate change. The box set of Schoolhouse Rock! was even added to the Library of Congress in 2018, which means it is officially deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”

However, even as a super-fan, I was only recently made aware of this tribute album (whose proceeds partially went to the Children’s Defense Fund). Released in 1996, this album covers a variety of classics across the different series. I confess I was disappointed to not have an “Interjections!” cover. However, this album is now so elusive that I wasn’t able to even listen to some of the songs (I’m itching to hear “Verb: That’s What’s Happening” by Moby and “Conjunction Junction” by Better than Ezra).

Let’s listen to one cover each from Grammar, Multiplication, Science, and America Rock and refresh our memories on some educational basics.

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Mar 062020
 

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

Moondog Matinee

Just five years on from the release of the rapturously-received Music From Big Pink album in 1968, simmering tension had already begun to erode The Band’s all-for-one-and-one-for-all dynamic. “We couldn’t get along… ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ and all that stuff was over,” drummer Levon Helm told GRITZ magazine in 2002.  The decision to record an album of covers appears to have been something of a tension-relieving exercise, a chance for The Band to let their hair down and remind themselves why they had started making music together in the first place. No Civil War epics or songs lamenting the plight of the American farmer to be found here: Moondog Matinee was designed to be nothing more than a straight-up party. Ironically, however, it’s the diversions into more sombre territory that provide some of the the album’s strongest moments.
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Feb 212020
 

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

Strange Little Girls

Wham, Steely Dan, Bette Midler, Bill Withers, Rihanna, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, Eagles, the Stones – Tori Amos has covered ’em all, and anyone and everyone left in between. (OK, maybe except maybe boybands – it wouldn’t surprise me if she tackled, say, “Back For Good” at least somewhere live, but I couldn’t find it in the pages and pages and pages of YouTube Tori Covers links.) Not necessarily successfully every time, it’s true, but always challengingly and usually well worth the ride.

Despite this evident love for the songs of others, Amos has officially issued only the one covers project, such is her own prolific muse, with well over a dozen discs of her own. (There’s also Midwinter Graces, a festive album with several traditional songs, and Night of Hunters, reimagining several classical pieces of inspiration to her over her years, but they don’t really count as cover albums.) Strange Little Girls, which came out in 2001, had a specific intent. Rather than a outpouring of personal favorites, this was a procession of songs delineating a masculine view of the world. By men and about men. With Amos’s acknowledged feminist opinions and activism, this was a deliberate stance, with the aim of subverting them and offering a female perspective thereto.
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Feb 042020
 

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

natalie imbruglia male

“Nothing’s fine, I’m torn!” Oops, wrong Natalie Imbruglia cover song (and yes, that is a cover). Today we celebrate Imbruglia’s 45th birthday by revisiting her cover album, Male, where she covered, you guessed it, songs by a variety of male artists.

You may know Imbruglia from her debut album, Left of the Middle, which has the highest sales for a debut album by an Australian female artist. After her debut, Imbruglia recorded three other albums before taking a break from music and leaning into acting.

This cover album followed the five-year musical drought and got Imbruglia back into touring, where she traveled around Europe and the UK in 2017 and 2018. We’re currently in another quiet period, but Imbruglia has plans to release a new album this year. Can’t wait!

Imbruglia’s Male holds many enjoyable gender-reversals with song choices from a variety of genres, from electronic to country and from pop to rock, and eras spanning 1970 to 2013. Below are a few stand-outs.

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Jan 212020
 

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

Return In Kind

This being the time of year when we are reminded of those we have lost, the retrospective review of deaths within the last year, I have found myself returning often to the works of Neal Casal, who tragically took his own life last August. A quintessential journeyman performer, hired guitar for many a singer/band seeking some additional gravitas, he had also a productive solo career, with about a dozen albums to his name. If he is best known for his lead guitar for Ryan Adams in the Cardinals, the band that also backed Willie Nelson on 2007’s Songbird, that is understandable. From there he became right hand man to Chris Robinson, in his eponymous Brotherhood, squeezing in the same role for Todd Snider in Hard Working Americans at the same time. The title of that band was surely meant for Casal, his ongoing list of sessions inspiring awe and respect, both in the quality of those who chose him, and the added value he provided to each. In the final years of his life, he was also increasingly absorbed into the diaspora of the Grateful Dead legacy, working both with Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, as well as being commissioned to write the incidental music for the run of shows celebrating the 50 years of the Dead, the Fare Thee Well gigs of 2015. This he then toured as Circles Around the Sun, finding time as well to form and play alongside members of Beachwood Sparks as the Skiffle Players.

Prolific or what?
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