May 242018
 
shilpa ray alice cooper cover

“Who knew Alice Cooper wrote feminist anthems?”

That’s the question New York goth-punk singer Shilpa Ray wrote on Bandcamp introducing her new cover of Cooper’s “Is It My Body” – and it’s a good one. He actually tried to make that point himself when he was on Marc Maron’s show a few months back, pointing to a song like “Only Women Bleed” (which Etta James, of all people, has covered). A track like that, he argued, was a far cry from the horrorshow makeup and on-stage guillotine. Continue reading »

May 212018
 
the districts love will tear us apart

One of the most gut-wrenching songs ever written, Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is
regularly included in lists of greatest rock songs of all time. And on their punky new cover, Pennsylvania quartet the Districts update the dark classic. Many artists have covered the 1980 post-punk classic, but the Districts brings a 2018 sound to the track, with a less pronounced bass and synthesizer. And although some old schoolers will contend what made the original so great was Ian’s non-standard voice, I’d argue the Districts’ vocals are a significant improvement. Continue reading »

May 212018
 
metallica kirk covers

Watching the Swedish band Europe’s epic 1986 video for “The Final Countdown” is like going through a checklist of all the cliches of ‘80s hair metal. Perfectly styled hair (check); pretty-faced lead singer (check); massive double bass drum kit (check); revealing leather pants (hell yeah); pyrotechnics (check); guitarists swaying back and forth in perfect unison (check); young girls reaching out for the band (check), etc., etc. etc. Now for those of you old enough to actually remember the ‘80s, you’ll recall that Metallica was supposed to be the antidote for all of these excesses. Fist-pumping, kick-ass metal written to piss off your parents and teachers and give the proverbial middle finger to authority. God, it was beautiful.

Continue reading »

May 182018
 
jerry garcia long black veil

Jerry Garcia was not exactly known for his talkative stage persona. Though the legendary singer/guitarist of the Grateful Dead was adept at providing quality sound bites during interviews, whenever he stood before a large stadium crowd he was more likely to tune his guitar than engage in the typical “Hello, Cleveland!” stage banter. That’s what makes his recently released cover of “Long Black Veil” so intriguing. On May 4, 1963 while performing the song at Top of the Tangent in Palo Alto with his then-wife Sara (Ruppenthal) Garcia, Jerry was practically Mr. Chatterbox on stage.

“We had a request, or at least I did, after this last set, to do a song called ‘Long Black Veil,’ which is a modern country song,” he told the crowd, during a lengthy introduction to the tune. “But it’s pretty anyway, even at that. It’s not even a folk song, or anything. It’s just a song. Somebody wrote it and it’s on records with electric guitars and everything. But anyway, it’s a good song.” The track was included on the new box set Before the Dead, which chronicles Garcia’s live recordings with various groups in Northern California from 1961 through 1964. Long before the days of YouTube, somebody was seemingly always following him around with a tape recorder.

In early 1963, “Long Black Veil” was hardly the standard it is today. Originally recorded by country singer Lefty Frizzell in 1959, it had only been released commercially by a handful of artists at this point. The most notable version was by folk revivalists the Kingston Trio in 1962. Many of the more famous renditions had not yet hit vinyl. Joan Baez’s live recording would not be released until November 1963 and Johnny Cash did not put out his cut until 1965.

Garcia’s take on the song is simple and straightforward. He plays it, strumming his acoustic guitar without a psychedelic solo anywhere in sight. His voice strains a bit as he attempts to hit the high notes. Listening to Garcia sing, it feels as if he does not quite know who he’s supposed to sound like. While the song is by no means an essential addition to the Garcia canon, listening this track, and in fact the whole collection, is a bit like reading the original scroll of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Though hardly a finished product, the music provides a fascinating window into an artist developing and honing his craft.

Click here to listen to more covers of “Long Black Veil.”

May 152018
 
scary pockets

You probably haven’t heard of California funk duo Scary Pockets. We hadn’t either, until stumbling upon their amazing sax-jazz cover of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory highlight “Pure Imagination.” But we should have. Turns out their keyboard player, Jack Conte, was half of one of YouTube’s first viral covers groups: Pomplamoose. (Conte also founded popular crowdfunding platform Patreon – needless to say, Scary Pockets has a page).

That’s the resume, but what hooked me before I discovered any of that were their new cover videos. Like a ’70s funk version of Postmodern Jukebox, Conte and his guitarist partner Ryan Lerman bring in guest singers for vintage soul takes on pop hits across the genre map. Start where I did, with a smooth jazz take on “Pure Imagination” featuring saxophonist Sam Gendel. Continue reading »

May 142018
 
bill murray el paso

Originally recorded by Marty Robbins in 1959 on his Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs album, the song “El Paso” just might be the quintessential country and western ballad. Winning a Grammy for Best Country & Western song in 1961, there have been a lot of excellent cover versions over the years, including a relatively recent live version recorded at the Spotify studios by Shovels & Rope, an amped up rendition by The Old 97’s that was featured on a King of the Hill soundtrack, and Tom Russell, someone that has spent a lot of time in El Paso, lends a passionate voice to the song on his record Indians, Cowboys, Horses, Dogs. Continue reading »