May 062010

Cover Commissions is a monthly series in which a featured artist covers a reader-selected song for this blog. Any artists interested in participating, email me.

Once upon a time, not so long ago…

A song covered as often as “Livin’ on a Prayer” presents a challenge to any artist.  When big haired Bon Jovi narrowly beat littler haired Arcade Fire in last month’s Cover Commissions poll though, Coconut and the Duke accepted that challenge.  The people had spoken, but could the Wisconsin duo ring any more life from the song that spawned a million fist-pumps?

They delivered in spades.  It’s folk, it’s jazz; it’s ironic, it’s sincere; it’s Mark Knopfler, it’s Dean Martin.  It’s hard to describe.  I’ll turn it over to them.

Coconut writes:

I talked to a former record store owner from Minneapolis (Roadrunner and Aardvark) who said he’d never heard Bon Jovi’s song ‘Living on a Prayer’.  That impressed me.  He said he “probably sold a lot of their records, but he didn’t see any reason to play their music”.  This song had to be one of the most popular of the 80’s.  If you didn’t listen to it, eventually, you were forced to hear it.  I thought this song would make a good cover mainly because I am interested in the final days of the record store music industry.  Where people went in and talked to an employee or other audiophile about who is making interesting music.  My reason for singing it is more nostalgia for an era than for a particular song.  Now more than ever, artists are ‘Living on a Prayer’ .  

The Duke writes:

When ‘Living On A Prayer’ was voted in by your readers, my first thoughts were: Let’s do it a la Frank Sinatra (another great New Jersey export).  But then I realized, to pull off Old Blue Eyes, we would need that Big Band sound.   A challenge to say the least.  I wanted to stick to a jazz style, as jazz is a big part of our Invasive Folk sound.  Joe and I bounced around some chord changes and different jazz styles, ultimately going with one of our favorite tunes.  After laying down some basic tracks, it took Coconut and I a few takes to “find” the song.  First there was too many instruments.  Then, the vocals needed developing.  After filling the song with loads of instruments and vocal overdubs, we realized less was more.  ’80s hair bands were known for excess.  We wanted our version to stray from BJ’s, using ukulele, electric guitar, mandolin, bass and simple vocals.

“Stray from BJ’s” it certainly does.  You ain’t never heard “Livin’ on a Prayer” like this!

Coconut and the Duke – Livin’ on a Prayer (Bon Jovi)

Check out more Coconut and the Duke at their website, MySpace or CD Baby.

This mp3 may be freely shared with the artist’s blessing. Post it on your blog, send it to your friends, tweet it to the world. When you do though, please include a link to this site to promote future installments of Cover Commissions.

Apr 012010

Cover Commissions is a monthly series in which a featured artist produces a special cover for this blog. Readers choose the song from a list of suggestions provided by the artist. Any artists interested in participating in a future installment, please email Cover Me at the address on the right.

Once upon a time there were two young men going to college in Wisconsin. Being in Wisconsin, they didn’t have much to do except eat cheese and be cold. One day Student A (Joe Maurer) heard Student B (Lucas Stangl) rocking out in his dorm room. He invited him over for a jam session.

Coconut and the Duke was born.

One jam session became many jam sessions. Wisconsin became Pennsylvania-New York. College became the real world. Over the years Joe and Lucas kept recording, eventually releasing EP and, last year, an album, In the Bamboo Forest.

Joe (Coconut) and Lucas (the Duke) describe their music as “invasive folk,” which is as good a term as any. Their songs have hilarious names like “Venison Jerky” and “Skinny Dipping with Your Hot Sister,” but are delicately produced acoustic jams that incorporate mandolin and ukulele. Check out In the Bamboo Forest at CD Baby or iTunes, then head to their website to download their 2008 We’ll All Be Homemade Boats Someday EP for free.

Last August the duo began a “Cover of the Month” series on their website. Since kicking things off with Eddie Money’s “Two Tickets to Paradise,” they’ve tackled everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Jesus Christ: Superstar. Here’s a couple samples — get the rest at their site.

Coconut and the Duke – Music to Watch Girls By (Andy Williams)

Coconut and the Duke – Walcott (Vampire Weekend)

This month, they’re doing a special cover as April’s Cover Commissions artist. What song? It’s your call.

Each of the ten choices below is linked to a YouTube video. Listen to the originals, listen to Coconut and the Duke, then vote for what song you want to hear them tackle in the poll on the right.

Voting closes in one week, so get deciding! Vote in the poll on the right.