Jul 232020
 

Gillian Welch David Rawlingsjenn champion the blue albumGiven the slow, unsteady cadence of the Gillian Welch/David Rawlings release schedule, their many followers take delight in news from either one of the pair. (They always come as a pair, though they are not always billed that way.) Even if a new offering is not new, original material—even if the songs are covers, and older ones at that—it’s newsworthy.

So here’s what’s new: All the Good Times, a collection of 10 covers, some of their “favorites,” recorded during the pandemic lockdown. It’s their first such collection, and the first album in their 25-year career to be credited as “Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.” The partners share the billing because, for the first time, they split the vocal duties right down the middle.

And here’s what’s old: Everything else about the release. (That’s not a diss.) Welch/Rawlings apply the same tried-and-true formula they’ve honed for a quarter century now: all-acoustic, duet-style, singing into a single mic. Even the recording method is antiquated: they dusted off a reel-to-reel to capture these songs; no DAT or hard drives for these two. (On one track, the tape reel runs out well before the last verse is over. It’s one of the more charming technical glitches in recent memory, a bug shrugged off as a feature. For a few seconds there I thought my laptop died.)
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Jul 222020
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Indigo Girls

Emily Saliers, of the folk duo Indigo Girls, turns 57 today. She and Amy Ray have enjoyed a long collaboration. They have known each other since elementary school and have been playing together since high school in 1985. Since then they have recorded 16 studio albums, including their most recent Look Look that they released in May.

As Karen Tongson writes in her Turning the Tables piece on the band’s influence: “To know if you are an Emily or an Amy is akin to declaring a strong preference for Wordsworth or Coleridge, as much as for Lennon or McCartney.” The pair write songs individually but then join together to perform, building albums with a mix of both of their songwriting styles and points of view. Despite never really becoming mainstream, these two as individuals and as part of their iconic duo have had a powerful impact on their fans and on the culture of music itself. Want to know more about their legacy? Check out the band’s Tumblr blog that documents the history of their work together.

As our contribution to Saliers’ birthday celebration, we’ll hear a cover by the Indigo Girls, covers of three Indigo Girls hits written by Saliers, and a cover of one of their particularly political collaborations.

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Jul 212020
 

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

Cruel Summer covers

Since Bananarama first released “Cruel Summer” in June 1983, the sunny season has become substantially crueller, certainly if the raft of recent covers of the song are considered. The post-punk British girl group originated a song to stand alongside such classics as “Sealed with a Kiss” and “The Boys of Summer” when they sang of loneliness, separation, and heartache in relation to the vacation period, but they did so in a way that incorporated a strong element of, well, fun. Good, bouncy, innocent fun. Current artists seem unable to approach it in quite the same manner.

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Jul 172020
 

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

Wheatus

From the first moment I heard “Teenage Dirtbag,” upon its release in 2000, it felt like it was everywhere. Hearing it rattle the walls as it emanated from the massive sound system at Virgin Megastore in Times Square (where I was working back then) would always trigger the same two contradictory thoughts: “not again,” followed rapidly by “…I love this “. Tune-wise, it seemed like the hyperactive and insecure younger sibling of  Nada Surf’s 1996 sarcastic classic “Popular,” all catchy, candy-coated and gigantically chorus’d. But lyrically, well, that’s where the sonic kinship ended.

Ricky KassoEven if you didn’t grow up on Long Island in the ’80s, if you are a true-crime aficionado of a certain age (a horrific classification but here we are), you are likely to be familiar with the case of Ricky Kasso, who murdered Gary Lauwers (both 17) in June of 1984. And if you did grow up there like Wheatus’s Brendan B.Brown (and myself), the whole story is firmly and forever embedded in your psyche, especially if you were a kid or teen at the time. It was both tragic and terrifying.

It wasn’t long before the press found a sensationalistic angle to latch onto regarding the crime and the scapegoating began. When Kasso was arrested for the murder, he was famously photographed wearing an AC/DC shirt replete with a bloody logo and a green cartoon devil. And that little detail, coupled with rumors of the crime being part of a satanic sacrifice ritual, provided all the ammunition needed for those in authority–i.e. parents, teachers and police–to go into irrational overdrive. As naively fantastical as sounds, from that point on, if you actively listened to metal, if you wore tees featuring the bands you loved like Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath, you were heretofore regarded as one of the devil’s loyal soldiers. While this mistrust of metalheads was patently ridiculous, an absurd piece of residual damage based on a single news photo, it really happened. And it was this very notion that led Brendan B. Brown to pen “Teenage Dirtbag”.
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Jul 162020
 

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

Box of Birds

Is the Church’s A Box of Birds the stock contractual filler for a band bereft of ideas, or a vivid introduction to those influences that begat the inspiration to form in the first place? In truth, it’s a bit of both. At a first listen it even begs whether it deserves status as a Covers Classic. Bear with me, it does, if only saved by the bell of the closing track.

A Box of Birds is a curious mix of songs, from hit singles familiar to all to deeper cuts known but to the few. Gone, by and large, is the space and counterplay that had made the Church’s name, with very little demonstration of how dual guitars can sparkle off each other. Sure, it sounds fun, with an image of the band playing these songs on the hoof, in a garage, that picture added to by the slightly muddy mix and the contrived run of one track into the next. If they hadn’t fully decided what to play until they began, well, that too seems not unlikely. But it all becomes a little wearing, particularly in the build-up to the finale. If ever an album cries out for a grand finish, this is it. And, praise be, the Church deliver.

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Jul 152020
 

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

Johnny Thunders covers

When you hear a Johnny Thunders guitar riff, you know it’s Johnny Thunders. The sloppy Chuck Berry meets Dick Dale with a sprained wrist guitar solos combined with a Keith Richards meets Ray Davies rhythm – always punctuated with slides down the neck and hammer-ons – is as distinctly Thunders as is his voice – sarcastic, sweet, taunting, and offensive in one disheveled package. No other guitarist – whether it be The Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones or Guns N’ Roses’ Izzy Stradlin – could replicate his sound no matter how hard they’ve tried.
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