Jul 172017
 
shawn butzin

Covering one of the greatest and most distinctive vocalists of all time is a risky proposition. Many Roy Orbison covers deconstruct the songs so the new singer can tweak the melody, under-sing, or otherwise dodge away from head-to-head comparison with Roy. But on his beautiful new cover of “Blue Bayou,” Michigan’s Shawn Butzin faces the challenge directly. And, against all offs, he nails it.

Butzin brings a country twang to “Blue Bayou,” sounding closer to Roy’s Sun Records roots than the original did. He’s got the expressive voice to sell the melody, crooning over harmonica and subtle backing vocals. It’s a tribute, he says, to another Butzin with a golden voice. Continue reading »

Jul 142017
 

If you are a regular reader of this site, you may remember this post from a couple months back, about the (to my ears) hotly anticipated shared project between English folkstrel Olivia Chaney and Portland quirkmeisters the Decemberists. Well, the lovely people at Nonesuch have now released Offa Rex’s The Queen of Hearts, and mighty fine it is too.

Chaney may not be especially well known to many, unless you were lucky enough to catch the last round of occasional Joe Boyd-curated Nick Drake tribute shows, featuring a host of singers and musicians from varied sources. Chaney was undoubtedly one of the stars of the one I saw, alongside company like Glen Hansard and Sam “Iron and Wine” Beam. This led me to her 2015 release, The Longest River, which I can commend. The Decemberists are much better known and have long been drawn to the canon of trad.arr., especially singer Colin Meloy. Indeed, one might surmise the seeds for Offa Rex were sown by a tour-only EP Meloy produced in 2006, Colin Meloy Sings Shirley Collins. Indeed, Meloy says he invited Chaney to the table by suggesting in a tweet that his band be her Albion Country Band. Queen of Hearts shows them not making a half-bad shot of it, with side-orders aplenty of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, not to mention a little of fellow U.S. travelers 10,000 Maniacs on the keyboard swirl of “Bonnie May.”
Continue reading »

Jul 132017
 
gavin castleton

We’ve written about Rhode Island songwriter/producer Gavin Castleton a few times over the years, spotlighting his airy and enjoyable covers of Peter Gabriel, Frank Ocean, and the Twin Peaks theme. But that didn’t prepare us for his newest, a hard-hitting and powerfully charged of Billie Holiday’s harrowing song about lynching, “Strange Fruit.”

One reason for our surprise is that Castleton recruited another Cover Me favorite to sing: Rescue of funk-rock band Bad Rabbits (hear them covering Smashing Pumpkins and Michael Jackson). Rescue delivers one of the most powerful vocals we’ve heard this year, lurching from aggressive pummel to wavering falsetto. And it blends perfectly with Castleton’s thudding electronic production, spare and unrelenting in a way that won’t let you turn away. Continue reading »

Jul 102017
 
chance the rapper covers

The last time we heard from Chance the Rapper, he was doing a weird and wonderful cover of Ziggy Marley’s Arthur theme song. So wonderful, in fact, that we named it our our favorite cover of that entire year. So needless to say, we were excited to see his new NPR Tiny Desk Concert featured another cover, of Stevie Wonder’s “They Won’t Go When I Go.”

“They Won’t Go When I Go” is a relative deep cut on Wonder’s 1974 masterpiece Fulfillingness’ First Finale, though more first heard it via George Michael’s popular cover. It’s no surprise Chance would know the original though: on The View earlier this year, he called Wonder “the greatest living artist.” Plus in that same interview, Chance said he considered Kanye West an inspiration, and Kanye himself covered this same song live way back in 2011. Continue reading »

Jun 282017
 
kevin morby covers

The Guardian once called punk quartet the Germs “the most outrageous band on the West Coast.” Often cited as one of the first hardcore bands, their influence far outpaces their discography (a single album before frontman Darby Crash overdosed on heroin). Guitarist Pat Smear achieved greater fame in Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, but the Germs’ music today sounds as aggressive and vital as it did in the late 1970s.

Well, not in Kevin Morby’s hands it doesn’t. His cover of the Germs’ “Caught in My Eye” is one of those where you have to double check the original lyrics to make sure it’s even the same song. The laid-back acoustic picker gives the hardcore punk tune a very different tone. Shimmery steel guitar and lilting female backing vocals invoke Laurel Canyon a decade before punk even came along. It’s beautiful in a way the original most assuredly is not, a radical transformation that works against all odds. Continue reading »

Jun 262017
 
jack white american epic

Every once and awhile, a musical project comes along that reminds us of the magnitude of talent and ingenuity many of our current musicians possess. The American Epic series by PBS is one such project. Directed by Bernard McMahon, American Epic re-imagines the music captured by record companies way back in the 1920’s. But not just any music. “Country singers in the Appalachians, blues guitarists in the Mississippi Delta, Gospel preachers across the south, Cajun fiddlers in Louisiana, Tejano groups from the Texas Mexico border, Native American drummers in Arizona, and Hawaiian musicians”. The record companies gave a musical voice to so many talented, undiscovered musicians at that time.

To make the project authentic, the American Epic team reassembled the very first electrical sound recording system which was used back in the 1920s. They then tasked executive producers Jack White and T Bone Burnett to create an album of recordings by twenty of today’s artists, all recorded on the only system of this kind in the world. The result is a fantastic throwback to long ago brought to us by some seriously talented and committed musicians. Continue reading »