Feb 102020
 

Bonny Light Horseman reviewYou could be forgiven for thinking Bonny Light Horseman is an album of original material, so rigidly is it embedded in a certain sound, that of the bevy of (largely) acoustic troubadours who occupy that hinterland between folk and country, producing a timeless style of music that could have come from anywhere in the last 30 years. But no Americana, this. What we have here is material culled from way further back. All these songs are centuries old, usually with Anglo-Celtic roots, often veterans of the trans-Appalachian routes that applied new tunes, new arrangements and new interpretations, with the lyrics ever-evolving. And so here, as when many modern themes become seamlessly drawn into the mix.

Title track, and the name of the band, “Bonny Light Horseman,” is a good case in point. Nominally a song about Napoleon, it somehow also seems to cast reference to current political leadership foibles. This is no celebration of hey-nonny-no or of toora-loora-lay, barely (bar that Napoleonic name check) does any sense of the past or of any austere tradition creep in. Even the album’s best known song, “Blackwaterside,” scarcely reminds of previous iterations, whether the “authenticity” of Anne Briggs or the casual appropriation of Jimmy Page’s Led Zeppelin. That takes some skill when acoustic guitars and light percussion are all you have to play with. OK, having some more than half-decent voices is no hindrance.
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Feb 072020
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

You Light Up My Life

It’s very likely that you never knew Debby Boone’s smash hit “You Light Up My Life” was a cover song. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not a very happy reason. This is a story about two women and the man who did so wrong by them, even as he saw them to stardom.
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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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Feb 032020
 

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.

come on let's go covers

A long, long time ago — well, sixty-one years ago, anyway – the direction and course of music was altered forever when Charles Hardin Holley, Jiles Perry Richardson, and Richard Steven Valenzuela were killed in a plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa, in the early morning hours of February 3rd. Better known as Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens, these early rock and rollers were taken before they reached levels of success that most people projected for them. How significant was this loss? Well, there’s a reason February 3, 1959 is called The Day the Music Died. The music, though, lives on. What really died that day was the opportunity for these artists to influence the direction of the music they loved, going forward.

Perhaps the most acute loss that day was that of Ritchie Valens. At the time of his death, Valens was a mere 17 years of age, had been performing for less than a year, and had only a couple of hits. But he was a true pioneer, and is widely considered the first musician of Mexican descent to achieve crossover success in mainstream popular music. Despite his tragically truncated output, his influence in the field of Latino-based rock can be felt through the years, in Hispanic artist like Selena and Los Lobos; even Jimi Hendrix cited him as an influence.

One of Valens’s best-known songs is the oft-covered “Come On Let’s Go.” The question here is, which of these covers comes out on top? There are many from which to choose, some by bigger names (editor’s note: Paley Brothers & Ramones for me!), but the three selected for inclusion here all have something interesting to offer.
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Feb 022020
 

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!

Shakira

Today Shakira celebrates her 43rd birthday in style, sharing the Super Bowl halftime show stage with J-Lo. So today we celebrate Shakira’s storied career. Shakira has been a bit under the radar lately; we last heard from her in 2017 with her El Dorado album and world tour. She has already released a new single in 2020, though, so I hope that means another Shakira album is on the horizon.

From being a major player in making Spanish music more mainstream (pre-“Despacito” and friends) to performing pump-up jams at major sporting events (for both kinds of football, no less) to tackling body image issues (although attracting some criticism for her stance), Shakira is so much more than her truthful hips. Taylor Swift’s new documentary even reminded me that Shakira was presenting Swift the award during the Kanye West drama.

Shakira is especially active in charity efforts and politics; her charity operation, the Pies Descalzos Foundation, provides schools for poor children in her home country of Columbia. She is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and has been recognized by the UN for her many efforts. Keep up the good work, Shakira, while we remind ourselves of your many hits.
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Jan 312020
 

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!

Donny Hathaway covers

At the conclusion of Amy Winehouse’s posthumously released version of “A Song for You,” there’s a particularly revealing and heartbreaking snippet of dialogue. “Marvin Gaye (was), great,” Amy emphatically states, “but Donny Hathaway like…he couldn’t contain himself, he had something in him, you know.” It’s heartbreaking to hear for myriad reasons, but it’s also, hands down, the most beautifully spot-on description of Donny Hathaway’s transcendent gift. He was in possession of an extraordinary voice that, like Aretha’s, could easily evoke tears in the most hardened of souls, even if the song itself was expressing a seemingly uplifting sentiment. He didn’t so much sing as simply feel out loud.

By the end of 1973, Donny Hathaway had recorded three solo studio albums, a duet album with Roberta Flack, and a movie soundtrack, as well as a live album widely acknowledged as one of the greatest ever made. He’d become the recipient of considerable critical acclaim, money, overwhelming attention…and pressure, much of which was self-created. He was a musical perfectionist of the extreme, complex, and occasionally insufferable Brian Wilson variety, both in the studio and onstage. And he was surprisingly insecure about the quality of his voice (a fact we standard issue humans might find hard to comprehend), so much so that in the latter years of his career he’d taken to telling colleagues that if he did any more recording, he no longer wanted to sing but just wanted to play piano.

Donny had been diagnosed as schizophrenic in 1971, and as time progressed, sadly, so did the disease. He also suffered from depression. By 1974 his mental health issues had become so severe that studio work and live performances became increasingly difficult to arrange and follow through with. He did what he could, when he was able, but for all intents and purposes, his career as a singular headlining and touring artist was over. As a result, from 1974 to 1979, his recorded output was minimal, consisting of two tracks with Roberta Flack in 1979 and a dozen or so solo songs, the latter of which didn’t see light of day until the release of the 2013 Rhino box set Never My Love. He ultimately died by suicide on January 13th, 1979 in New York City.

Donny Hathaway was one of the greatest singers to ever walk the planet, and his excursions into the world of covers remain to this day a master class in how it’s done.
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