Sep 292020
 

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

Judy Dyble

Singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Judy Dyble occupies a unique place in music history. Dyble, who passed away in July at the age of 71, played a role in the origin stories of two long-running British musical institutions. She was a founding member of the folk-rock outfit Fairport Convention, and she sang with a band called Giles, Giles and Fripp; they would go on to morph into the legendary prog-rock group King Crimson.

Dyble’s music career spanned five decades. Whether it’s on her early recordings from the ‘60s or her albums from the 2010s, the quiet power of her voice resonates like a haunting echo from the past, carrying nearly every song she sang. Throughout her life and career, she performed many excellent cover songs, proving herself as a powerful interpreter of other artists’ music.
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Sep 252020
 

When I first saw the guitarist Charlie Hunter, it was accidental. I was only interested in seeing the sax player and the drummer—two legends—not the guitarist playing with them. If I’d never heard of him, how good could he be? Hunter was in mid-solo when I walked in. Within seconds I was sold—loved the scalding tone, the unhurried feel, the unexpected chords. Then the music shifted gears and the bass line grabbed my attention. I turned to check out the bassist–but no bassist stood on stage. It took some time to figure it out: the bass player was also Charlie Hunter.

On closer inspection, Hunter wasn’t playing a 6-string, but a 7- or 8-string beast—the “extras” were bass strings. The song’s latin-jazz groove pulsed from the bottom set of strings, the leads and melodies spidered out from the top few strings. On top of that Hunter was clearly improvising all of it, working out the bones of the song blow-by-blow with the drummer. The sax player I came to hear stepped up to solo, but by then I was mostly there to see Charlie Hunter.
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Sep 212020
 

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!

Annie Lennox

It’s March of 1995, and by this point in time it has been firmly established that Annie Lennox doesn’t make bad albums. From her earliest days in The Tourists, through her incredible partnership with Dave Stewart in Eurythmics, to her glorious 1992 solo debut Diva, the quality level has been ridiculously high. Every album to the last has contained multiple soaringly wonderful evergreen pop classics, most of which are justifiably worshipped and treasured to this very day. But of course, if there’s one thing we know for certain about pop music, it’s that it’s a cruel, fickle beast, and critical favor can turn on a dime. And so, after a pretty consistent outpouring of acclaim, maybe it was inevitable that by 1995 the jar of journalistic goodwill was empty. Annie’s second solo album Medusa featured a perfectly sung and slickly produced selection of cover songs, and the time had finally come; the critics hated it.

While its brilliant, theatrical first single “No More I Love You’s” was a worldwide hit and the LP itself sold by the truckload, music journalists were pretty much across the board unimpressed (even here at Cover Me). One review in a big culture magazine at the time amusingly referred to the album as “a muff,” described Annie’s attempts at certain songs as “belly-flops,” and declared the overall sound to be “microwaved.”

So whose assessment of Medusa was “right,” the fans’ or the critics’? Well, truth be told, both. Put simply, it was an immaculately sung, pristinely produced, cleverly chosen selection of covers, with nary a rough edge to be seen. And while the overall sound could be characterized as chilly and/or mechanical in spots, it was still home to some pretty gloriously heartfelt and powerful song interpretations. Case in point: a broodingly beautiful take of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” as well as a grandly dramatic reading of Procol Harum’s epic “Whiter Shade of Pale.” And of course, the aforementioned “No More…” was a brilliant pop song by any standard.

But here’s the thing: Despite its renown, Medusa shouldn’t be looked at as the final word on Annie Lennox’s ability to reinvent and breathe new life into old songs. Over the years, she has proven herself to be an exceptionally gifted interpreter… and the majority of her finest cover work has come in the form of free-standing one-offs. With that in mind, let’s put Medusa to the side for a minute and turn a spotlight on the heart-clutchingly wonderful stuff around the edges, the live, the rare, and the underrated. Let’s venture into the depths of Annie’s truly exceptional cover canon, wherein lay a whole lotta treasures…
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Sep 182020
 

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.

Madonna's "Music"

Madonna’s eighth album Music (the one with the cowboy hat) turns 20 today. She worked on it while pregnant with her son Rocco (and yes, she was pregnant when the music video was recorded). Before its official release date, preliminary recordings of the album were leaked on Napster (remember those days?). Despite this, the album sold plenty of copies, reaching triple platinum status.

The title track, and first single, “Music” was inspired by Madonna’s experience at a Sting concert, watching the audience engage with Police classics. At this writing, it’s also Madonna’s last number one single, which I’m actually surprised by–what, not enough “Hung Up” or “4 Minutes” fans out there? Nevertheless, today we celebrate the song that encouraged us to “put a record on” (before Corinne Bailey Rae did) with three covers.
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Sep 142020
 

Dozens (hundreds?) of young artists fell for the 2015 song of the year, Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me,” and posted their own version of the hit on social media. But only one of them found herself taking a call from Prince, who saw enough talent and originality in her post to want to hear more. That was just one early “lift-off” moment in the career of singer, song-writer, pianist, and Blue Note recording artist Kandace Springs.

The calls to collaborate kept coming, from artists in diverse genres, locations, and generations: Ghostface Killah, Daryl Hall, Black Violin, and David Sanborn in the U.S., Aqualung and Metropole Orkest in Europe. (We highlighted her Metropole Orkest hook-up in our Charles Mingus celebration back in April.) Springs’ vocal stylings are varied enough, and her roots are deep enough, to deal with all of it: her work reveals clear hip-hop, soul, and R&B influences, but classical music and straight-ahead jazz are her true loves. Her life-long hometown of Nashville may be synonymous with country music, but that’s one form Springs hasn’t taken on. Yet.
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Sep 112020
 

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.

Steve Miller Band's "Abracadabra"

You may know the Bay Area band Steve Miller Band for a variety of songs, from “Fly Like an Eagle” to “Take the Money and Run.” You may even call members “space cowboy” or “Maurice.” If you have dug into more trivia you may know that Paul McCartney even contributed to a song on their second album. But do you happen to have opinions about the title track from their twelfth album?

Not everyone is a big “Abracadabra” fan, but the song was a big hit for the Steve Miller Band, especially after the lull following the Book Of Dreams album (and yes, this is way past “The Joker”). When MTV was just getting started, this music video really shook things up too. Reportedly the woman featured prominently in it was the first “video vixen,” and this song was the first to use the “body pan” shot. So thanks for bringing objectification to MTV, I guess? Almost forty years later we see how others have interpreted the song.

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