Most of the world first heard Sam Smith via Smith’s vocal turn on English electronic duo Disclosure’s hit “Latch.” Smith has collaborated with them a couple times since, and now the partnership continues with Smith’s new cover of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” produced by Disclosure’s Guy Lawrence. The track doesn’t differ that much from the original, but Smith’s inimitable falsetto proves a perfect match for this disco classic.
While Brad Laner has been kicking out tuneful fuzz in an assortment of incarnations since the early ’90s, he is best known for leading shoegazing popsters Medicine. The band – Laner plus a revolving group of collaborators – have operated on and off over the past 25-plus years, with gaps of up to 10 years between releases. As a solo artist in between the Medicine records, Laner has sweetly revealed himself to be an ’70s AM radio kid, recording a couple of particularly heartfelt, sludgy and exceptional covers of Top 40 nuggets, Chicago’s “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” and Blue Magic’s “Sideshow”.
Angie McMahon – Knowing Me, Knowing You (ABBA cover)
It comes too late for our Best ABBA Covers countdown, but Angie McMahon’s low-simmer version of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” would make a worthy addition. Though it comes coated in a layer of rock grit, the band’s vocal harmonies stand up to the Swedes. And just wait for Angie McMahon’s cover-closing holler.
I’ll pull no punches: Janiva Magness is one of the best blues voices you maybe won’t have heard of. Despite being only the second ever female artist to win the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award, she has been operating largely under the mainstream radar since the early ’90s, quietly building up steam, aided and abetted of late by the retro chops of Brian Setzer/Dan Hicks producer, Dave Darling. Now, with Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty: Change in the Weather, she sets out to cover the work of a voice that’s been hears far more often.
Magness has done Fogerty before: she included “Long As I Can See the Light” in her 2016 release, the Grammy-nominated Love Wins Again. Clearly this hit a chord, as this time she runs with a further dozen, both CCR material and some later songs. But make no mistake, this is no cut’n’paste job, settling for substituting her husky vocal for his hoarse holler; rarely does she revisit the swamp-pop murk of the originals, applying instead varied shades of classic blues to the palette, giving new life and, dare I say it, depth. So, rather than the potential overkill of listening to a Creedence greatest hits selection, the varied timbres bring added nuance to the lyrics, bringing forth more — and again I falter — subtlety than the bombast Fogerty and the band gave the material (rightly so in their case, as it worked for the needs of their audience at the time).
Nothing says Christmas quite like Judas Priest, or in this case, Rob Halford. Priest’s legendary frontman kicked off the holiday season by unleashing Celestial, a solo album of Yuletide-themed originals and standards recast in full new wave of British heavy metal glory. Halford is by no means the first metal god to record a Christmas album. Still, he makes a valiant effort to create something original with a record filled with equal parts good cheer and British Steel.
My Darling Clementine is the name of UK husband and wife team of Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish, each with a track record ahead of starting to perform together some nine years ago. King was the leading light of mid-90’s Manchester Americana band, The Good Sons, who managed to take, with relative acclaim, their coals to Newcastle, recording and touring alongside and under the wing of Townes Van Zandt. A later solo career saw him working with Jackie Leven, and a feature of his occasional forays alone sees him play the songs of both Van Zandt and Leven, in a set of two halves. His wife has similarly had a career of her own, notably with her 2001 play “They Call Her Natasha,” self-performed and written and featuring her versions of the songs of Elvis Costello. The songs, some of which crop up on her other albums, also formed the basis of a tour.
Since 2010 they have put out four albums, in sometimes barbed tribute to the male/female, often husband/wife, duets of ’60s Nashville, and these have been extremely well received. The second, The Reconciliation, was described by Country Music People as “the best British Country record ever made.” Now they’re back with Country Darkness, Volume 1.