Feb 072016
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Garth Brooks was my first musical hero. Looking back now, it feels a little weird saying that. I didn’t have a great love for music as a young kid. The few albums I owned when I was 10 were Beach Boys cassettes. I think I only liked them because they reminded me of being on vacation when I was stuck in a winter fog. So why Garth?

It started slowly. The songs from his self-titled first album were always on the radio. I must have heard “The Dance” a thousand times. Things cranked up a little when No Fences came out in 1990. “Friends in Low Places” was everywhere.  Ropin’ the Wind took things to another level not too long after. All the kids at school in Bean Station, Tennessee were going crazy over Garth. Heck, everybody everywhere was going crazy over Garth. Rolling Stone put him on their cover; he was crossing over into the mainstream. This Is Garth Brooks played on TV, and I watched it with my dad. He was mad that Garth smashed a guitar. I was thrilled that Garth changed the words to “Friends in Low Places” and told some lady she could kiss his ass. I was in.
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Feb 052016
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

al-kooper

Dylan: “Turn the organ up.”

Wilson: “Hey, man, that cat’s not an organ player.”

Dylan: “Hey, now don’t tell me who’s an organ player and who’s not. Just turn the organ up.”

When Bob Dylan ordered producer Tom Wilson to bring up the organ in “Like a Rolling Stone,” it cemented the talents of a 21-year-old named Al Kooper into legend. (Kooper tells the whole story in his fantastic autobiography Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards.) Once serendipity has allowed you to put a trademark stamp on arguably the greatest rock ‘n’ roll song of all time, there’s nowhere to go but down, right?

Wrong – in fact, Kooper was just getting started.
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Feb 032016
 

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

MatesofStateCrushesCoversMixtape

When Mates of State‘s Crushes (The Covers Mixtape) came out in 2010, we ranked it the sixth best cover album of the year. If I were redoing that list today, I’d make it #1 (or, at worst, #2 – I do still love that Peter Gabriel album). The reason Crushes holds up so well is the same reason a lot of people might hate it: Its almost gleeful irreverence to its source material.

On Crushes, the husband-wife indiepop duo of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel draw their song selections equally from indie hits of the past decade and classic singer-songwriters. But they are beholden to neither group. Americana laments become dance celebrations. Outsider indie-prog becomes glossy toy-store pop. Electronic beats and gorgeous harmonies coexist in worlds far different than the ones the original artists envisioned. Continue reading »

Jan 312016
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

justintimberlake

Justin Timberlake shouldn’t be what he is. Starting out in a boy band doesn’t normally signal the beginning of a long career. N’Sync was, like most boy bands before them, a meteor, designed to burn hot and then disappear. But a funny thing happened: Justin Timberlake emerged out of what was left and got to work transforming himself into a star.

When N’Sync put itself on the shelf in 2002, Justin responded by putting out his first solo album, Justified. He made no secret of his ambitions, stating he’d like to pattern himself after Michael Jackson. A lofty goal, but Timberlake put the time in, touring hard and putting out danceable tunes with wide appeal. His next album, though, would put the world on notice.
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Jan 302016
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

 marty-balin

Ah, Marty Balin. You have a great, blue-eyed soul voice. You were one of the founders of one of the seminal bands of the 1960s, the Jefferson Airplane. You wrote and sang lead on a number of classic and hit songs. You were knocked unconscious by Hell’s Angels on stage at Altamont. You are a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And yet, if you stopped someone on the street—even someone who grew up during the 60s or 70s—it is likely that your name would be met with a blank stare, while your former bandmate Grace Slick’s probably would be recognized. Although your solo career had a few minor hits, they were few and far between. And you continue to occasionally gig and record with some of your old bandmates, who try to carry on their old sound, with limited success.

But a lack of name recognition, and a relatively indifferent solo career, cannot detract from your accomplishments, Marty. Sure, your star might have dimmed in comparison to Slick’s beautiful, outrageous mess, and you might have lost control of what you created, leaving and returning over the years. But many of your songs have proven to be timeless, while the drug/psychedelic/experimental tunes that surrounded yours on albums now sound dated and even silly.
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Jan 292016
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

Willie-Dixon

Willie Dixon was a talented stand-up bass player, producer, and occasional vocalist for Chess Records, but his greatest gift lay in his pen. One cursory glance at his song titles – “Back Door Man,” “Little Red Rooster,” “I Ain’t Superstitious,” and “You Can’t Judge a Book By the Cover,” to name just a “Spoonful” – reveals what an impact he had not only on Chicago blues, but rock ‘n’ roll as well. No self-respecting sixties band with a blues foundation would dream of taking the stage without a working knowledge of Dixon’s songs, and he wrote more than 500 of them – songs that sounded immortal from the moment they were first created.
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Jan 272016
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

rc1

Rosanne Cash, daughter of country legend Johnny Cash, has been putting out solo albums since 1978. Her work was widely lauded in the ’80s, starting with the commercial success of her 1981 album Seven Year Ache. In 1985, she won the Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me,” and 1987 saw the release of her landmark album King’s Record Shop. The ’90s were a quieter time for Cash, but she came roaring back in the 2000s, eventually recording The List, a selection of covers taken from a list of great American and country songs given to her by her father. She followed that with 2014’s The River and the Thread, which earned her three more Grammys, including Best Americana Album.

It would have been easy for her to have just followed in her father’s footsteps, copying his musical style, but Rosanne Cash found her own voice. She helped make cowpunk popular early in her career, and her music has evolved organically ever since. Now she stands as one of the leading artists in Americana. She records songs that speak to Southern sensibilities without restricting themselves to the trappings of modern country music. She left Nashville a long time ago to live in New York, and letting that expanded worldview influence her music makes her one of the champions of her chosen field.
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Jan 262016
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

LeadBellyNY

“In The Pines,” AKA “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” AKA “Black Girl,” is a traditional Appalachian folk song, nearly a century and a half old, that encompasses elements of searing heartbreak, perceived betrayal, death (by decapitation in many cases), and murder. Not to mention the fact the the song title is named after a location where “the sun don’t ever shine” and “we shiver when the cold wind blows.”

Not exactly “Kumbaya,” right? Which is fortunate, because if this song had been about the warm and fuzzies, it never would have lasted to become the haunting classic it remains today.

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