Mar 182016
 
TomWaits_wolynski

Back in 2006, Tom Waits released an outtakes and rarities compilation called Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards. At 56 tracks, it had a lot – but not nearly everything. So fans dutifully compiled a companion collection of everything left on the cutting room floor, cleverly titled Forgotten Orphans. In addition to more outtakes and b-sides, this fan bootleg included something the main set lacked: live performances. Many of those were super-rare covers, none of which have ever been officially released. But they are worth hearing. Tom Waits is widely regarded as an excellent songwriter, but these covers showcase Tom Waits’ power as a song interpreter. He’s never gone the Bob Dylan route of periodic forays into cover albums, but if he ever did, these songs show how great such an album could be. Continue reading »

Feb 172016
 

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

aretha-franklin

We were always wanting to come up with the best cheatin’ song, ever. — Dan Penn

Dan Penn, from the musically abundant and fertile lands of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, served as a performer, producer, and songwriter for soul music’s Mecca, FAME Studios. Chips Moman, an accomplished musician and songwriter, owned American Sound studios in Memphis, Tennessee. Moman is known for recording Elvis Presley, along with other legendary greats. Together, they co-wrote a few songs, including “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” for Aretha Franklin.

The initiative for their goal of writing “the best cheatin’ song, ever,” occurred while attending a DJ Convention in Memphis, Tennessee in 1966. During a break in a card game, inspiration struck Penn and Moman, and they needed a place to get it all down. Quentin Claunch of Hi Records agreed to lend his hotel room to the galvanized duo to write the song in, contingent on the agreement that the song would be given to James Carr to sing. Half an hour later, Penn and Moman emerged with a perfectly crafted musical masterpiece called “The Dark End of the Street.” Mission accomplished.
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Jul 172015
 

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

elvis_nick

Let’s start with a given — the best version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” is a cover. It would be hard to dispute that Elvis Costello’s version is the standard to which all others fall short, including the original. I’ll pause here to allow those readers unaware that Elvis wasn’t the first to record the song to go on the Internet and confirm this. (Don’t feel bad, by the way—we self-proclaimed cover experts don’t know everything, either.) That’s right, the song was written by Nick Lowe and originally recorded by his pub-rock band Brinsley Schwarz and released on the band’s 1974 album The New Favourites of… Brinsley Schwarz. Although Lowe had written the bulk of the songs on the band’s prior five albums, he has claimed that it was the first truly original song that he ever wrote. However, he has admitted to having stolen a lick from Judee Sill’s “Jesus Was a Cross Maker.” (See if you agree.)

Brinsley Schwarz’s version is a Byrds-esque bit of nostalgic folk rock. Lowe wrote it in 1973, when the hippie era of peace and love was being supplanted by harder edges, harder drugs, alcohol and cynicism. As Lowe has said, “this song was supposed to be an old hippie, laughed at by the new thinking, saying to these new smarty-pants types, ‘Look, you think you got it all going on. You can laugh at me, but all I’m saying is ‘What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?’” It is, in that version, a perfectly fine song. But it took a fan of the Brinsleys, who would one day rename himself Elvis Costello, to turn the song into something more. Lowe acknowledged that Costello “brought it to the world, so to speak. Because when he recorded it, he gave it that anthemic quality which everyone reacted really well to.”
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Feb 192015
 

The term “emo” was loosely thrown around in the early 2000s to describe any pop punk band with angsty lyrics. With such a mainstream semantic shift, the idea of emo can be off-putting for some. Those who are over the age of 25 or consider themselves connoisseurs of punk, however, know that emo and popular forms of punk really originates from the 1980s hardcore punk scene in Washington D.C. and is more than simple angsty pop punk. Continue reading »

Dec 022014
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much-maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

Defense? I never knew Linda Ronstadt was under attack. OK, not true, I’ve known she tends to get many a sneery put-down from “real” musos, dissing both her voice and her choices of material, citing that “real” artists have way more credibility (and way fewer sales.) Beautiful but soulless, they call her and her voice, short on originality and innovation. A famous early putdown was around her being merely a competent backing singer, the irony being that ability potentially defines far greater technique than the relative ease of a solo performance, as those who have sung with her (Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, and legions more) have been more than happy to testify. I guess it stems down to generalizations around any successful artist, particularly if blessed also with photogenicity and famous boyfriends.
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Nov 152013
 

When Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs recorded their first Under the Covers collaboration, they were surprised that it was released with the subtitle “Vol. 1.” Whatever genius at the Shout! Factory label chose to do that deserves a raise and a promotion, as it led Sweet and Hoffs to record two more volumes. Where Volume 1 consisted of songs based in the ’60s, and Volume 2 was made up of ’70s songs, Volume 3, released this week, is all about the ’80s, the decade when Hoffs came of age as a musician and Sweet wasn’t far behind.
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