Apr 082019
 
allman betts purple rain

In another world, Prince could have been a long-haired Southern outlaw. In an oral history of the film Purple Rain, these were Prince’s then-drummer Bobby Z’s recollections of the first time he heard the title track: “My first reaction was, ‘Wow, this is almost a country song.’ It had a different feel than anything we’d been rehearsing for the rest of the album.”

Time has proven Bobby Z correct, as “Purple Rain” has been covered by the likes of Dwight Yoakam, LeAnn Rimes, Darius Rucker, and Brad Paisley. The latest to give Prince’s masterwork a southern-fried makeover is the Allman Betts Band. During their tour opener on March 27 at the Brooklyn Bowl the band reinterpreted “Purple Rain” as a country-rock jam. Continue reading »

Apr 052019
 
the killers cover james taylor

When James Taylor was unable to perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live this week due to illness, The Killers gracefully filled the shoes. Not only did The Killers perform their most recent song “Land of the Free” as well as the Hot Fuss classic “All These Things That I’ve Done,” they also put their spin on a JT standard “Carolina in My Mind”. Continue reading »

Apr 052019
 
polly ann's hammer

With origins dating back to the Reconstruction era, the epic tale of John Henry has been told countless times. In its many forms, the legend tells of a large black man working on the railroad who goes toe-to-toe with a machine to determine who could hammer the most steel into solid rock. Henry wins the battle, but loses his life in the process.

Many singers have taken on this struggle between man and machine, with versions crossing over boundaries of race, genre, language and recording technology. “‘John Henry’ has become an American song,” historian Scott Reynolds Nelson wrote in his book Ain’t Nothing But A Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry. “And every group that sings it leaves traces in the lines and the verses they add.” Continue reading »

Apr 042019
 
george strait johnny paycheck

In the spring of 1998, I reviewed the George Strait Country Music Festival for my college newspaper. Once I got past describing the cigarette and chewing tobacco giveaways in the parking lot, this is what I wrote about Strait’s set: “His style of music was much more traditional compared to the other performers on the bill. Complete with twangy guitars and dueling fiddles, he seemed to belt out hit after hit with the entire crowd singing along to songs about love, love lost, rodeos and even a ‘Song about the Heartland.’” Continue reading »

Apr 032019
 
phil lesh covers wilco

American Songwriter lists Wilco’s “Misunderstood” as frontman Jeff Tweedy’s best tune. The website writes: “It’s a song that identifies with the outsider and the downtrodden. In brief brush strokes, Tweedy paints a picture of a dreamer being choked to death by encroaching age and the dullness of small town life.” During a recent show in Chicago, Wilco’s hometown, Phil Lesh & the Terrapin Family Band reworked “Misunderstood” into a celebratory, sing-along anthem. Continue reading »

Apr 022019
 
fallon roots doo-wop

About a decade ago, I was walking down 23rd Street in Manhattan, when suddenly, without warning, a group of teenagers in front of me burst into song. To my surprise, they belted out the doo-wop classic “In the Still of the Night.” I immediately texted my father, a lifelong fan of the tune, saying I thought the scene was emblematic of just how well the track has endured.

“In the Still of the Night” was first recorded by the Five Satins in 1956. The song was not a huge hit upon its release. But with its memorable chorus and perfect doo-wop harmonies, it has grown more popular through time. In the ‘80s, WCBS-FM (New York City’s oldies station) repeatedly listed the song in the number one spot on its annual Top 500 countdown. Around the same time, the song appeared on the 1987 mega-selling Dirty Dancing soundtrack. There have been a number of covers over the years, most notably by Philly soulsters Boyz II Men, who gave it the “Cooley High” treatment in 1992.

Continue reading »