May 152020
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

John Martyn

You getting a bit weary with the news this year? Getting all a bit dark, isn’t it? If evil is too strong a word for this virus, good it certainly ain’t, with some of the actions of our leaders sometimes also bordering on, let’s say, willful. So it is to John Martyn I turn, with his plea for a little more uplift, a little more enlightenment. A little more love.

John Martyn was a mercurial man, a mass of paradigms. He had the voice and look of an angel at the start of his career, and the recreational habits of the devil. Those lifestyle choices visibly destroyed his body, as over the years he became the embodiment of Dorian Gray’s attic artwork. Yet the voice remained–sure, a tad more blurred around the edges–with the songwriting seeming not to suffer at all. Sounding as though he was never sure if he was a home counties poet or a Glaswegian hardman, Martyn’s onstage persona and accent slipped randomly from the one to the other, belches and sonnets taking turn for attention. Said not to be the nicest of men, not least when afire with alcohol, he left a trajectory of broken relationships and broken faces behind him. His bad habits ultimately killed this 20-stone diabetic amputee, although, with no small irony, his death came at a time where he had finally taken to sobriety. This was no challenge in itself, when journalists, seeking a good story, would sneak him in bottles of hooch, directly against the wishes of his final partner.
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Apr 282020
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Deadicated

Deadicated is so much more than a great covers album; it’s a great album, period. But more, it also heralded the era for covers albums to be more than a leg up for aspiring musicians to get a grip on the slippery pole, by riding on the laurels of another more established act. This was one of the first tribute albums where the great and the good lined up to salute their peers.

But I’ll get back to that. My reasons for it attaining classic status stemming a whole lot more than from the fearsome reputation of the Dead. As a… well, whatever I was, I loved the idea of the Grateful Dead. But over here in Britain, there was no Deadhead culture as such. They came over, what, once? (Yup, Bickershaw Festival, 1972, as at least one contributor to the album knew only too well.) As an avid reader of New Musical Express and Melody Maker, the UK “inkies”, the musical press within whose hallowed pages they were ensured good copy, to me they were just the coolest dudes ever. I’d also read Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and was smitten.

But where to start? In truth, I was daunted, happier to wear the T-shirt than buy the music. I didn’t want it spoilt by any risk of finding the idea to be less than the reality of the dream.

Luckily a trip to Orlando, circa 1987, solved that conundrum, around about the time of In the Dark. Of course, the big hit single helped, even if there were more filler tracks than killer tracks on the album. Clearly I hadn’t quite got that the Dead were more a live experience than a studio band. Still haven’t, really; to this day, listening to live records has never been a great immersive for me. But, praise be, I loved the studio records, snapping up the back catalog.

When Deadicated dropped in 1991, I bought it, unheard. The roster of artists included an impossible array of my favorites: Elvis Costello, Los Lobos, Suzanne Vega, Dr. John, Indigo Girls, Cowboy Junkies and more. Catnip and heaven combined. (Deadicated also served as a benefit for Rainforest Action Network, active to this day, a charity dedicated to the preservation of these vital once macro-climates, shrinking by the day through the scourge of deforestation.)
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Jul 312019
 

Check out the best covers of past months here.

best new cover songs july
Anais Mitchell & The Staves – Strong Enough (Sheryl Crow cover)

For a few years now, long-running French video company La Blogothèque has been filming a series they call “One to One” at Bon Iver’s various European festivals. They blindfold one audience member and bring them into a private room for a concert for one. Bon Iver did one, and Damien Rice’s is a must-watch. Personally, that experience sounds more awkward than enjoyable – especially with all the cameras in your face – so I’d rather just watch someone else’s personal concert on video. This one is a gem, feature The Staves with Anais Mitchell delivering a gorgeously-harmonized Sheryl Crow cover. Continue reading »

Jun 112019
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Dr John

Having watched the glorious images of New Orleans saying goodbye to their very own Dr. John, Mac Rebennack, it was daunting for me to try to do justice to his legacy with a piece on “I Walk on Gilded Splinters,” arguably the best known of his songs. Scarcely the most representative, it was the highlight, I guess, of his 1968 debut Gris Gris, owing more to the voodoo priest persona that gave him his break than to his latter-day body of work. It’s the song that casual fans, upon hearing the news of his death, might have known best through cover versions (by Humble Pie or by Paul Weller, depending on their age) as they asked who he was. (“The guy from Treme might actually be a commoner answer………)

But is it any good? Well, yes, of course it’s good, nothing quite like it having made the charts previously, and it was a hit – just not for its writer.
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Jun 082019
 

In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.

dr john covers

It is astonishing that there has never been a post on this site dedicated to Dr. John, aka the Night Tripper, aka Mac Rebbenack, whose candle finally snuffed this week after 77 years. Indeed, it seems positively shameful, given the number of covers he performed, often bringing new life to songs and genres long deemed dead or forgotten, at least by this generation. In the voodoo lore he adopted as his early image, his spirit now has a year and a day to drift free in the wilderness, before ceremonially starting in a new life.
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Aug 082016
 
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This year marks the 40th anniversary of The Band’s legendary The Last Waltz final concert and to celebrate, NYC’s Lincoln Center hosted an all-star tribute concert Saturday night. Held down by Levon Helm’s longstanding Midnight Ramble Band, special guests included Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin, and even Dr. John, reprising the song he sang at the original Last Waltz. Continue reading »