Jun 282016
 

to_emmylou_coverTo Emmylou, the Fleeing Ghost Records’ compilation of LA-based artists covering the songs of Emmylou Harris, features eleven reverential performances. Each of the largely unknown artists collected here do a fine job of recasting her songs, both those well-known and those that run a little deeper, in a contemporary framework without sacrificing the heart and soul of the original. Not surprisingly, the primary focus throughout is on each artist’s voice, something for which Harris has long been known both on her own, as a collaborator and as one of the finest interpreters of Americana.

Fittingly then, opening track “Timberline” from Harris’ 1985 release The Ballad of Sally Rose is performed by the Silver Lake Chorus. Unfettered by musical accompaniment, the chorus of voices help establish the primary focus of the collection from the start. And while there are plenty of fine instrumental performances throughout, the over-arching element running through these songs – performed in styles ranging from straight country to contemplative indie rock – is the purity of the human voice. And in this case, the “voice” in question is that of Harris as a songwriter, something that is occasionally lost due to her high-profile collaborations and the immaculate nature of her voice.
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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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Sep 132013
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Gillian Welch is a yankee. There, it’s said. One would have a hard time discerning it from her mix of folk and bluegrass arrangements, but there’s a Big Apple right there on her birth certificate. So let it be noted that, when compared to some “legitimate” country music popularized and sung by those born and bred in the South, with their auto-tuned cartoonish absence of substance, an overabundance of shiny objects and pyrotechnics, and some ghastly redneck rap thrown in, it’s obvious that birthplace alone has little influence on how traditional or great country music is.
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Apr 192013
 

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

Fans of Gram Parsons are generally divided into three camps over 1999’s Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons. The first thinks it’s brilliant, a reverent homage to a great songwriter and a testament to the weight of his country rock influence. The second likes the raw sound of another tribute album better: 1993’s Conmemorativo: A Tribute to Gram Parsons, featuring the likes of Bob Mould and The Mekons. And the third camp feels that the only person that can sing Gram Parsons songs is Parsons himself.

If we took the philosophy of the last opinion to heart, this site wouldn’t even exist. While the so-called purists would deny any version other than the one by the original artist as being legitimate, it certainly would be a dull world if all musicians were content to color within the lines without recognizing that someone else before them drew those lines. While Conmemorativo does contain some gems, there are two reasons why Return of the Grievous Angel is better: great production values, and the guiding hand of Emmylou Harris, who worked so closely with Parsons and who served as executive producer of the compilation. So count us among the members of that first camp. Now let’s meet the man who inspired the album. Continue reading »

Feb 222012
 

The sun was out all day on Sunday as thousands of music fans gathered at Ocean Beach on San Francisco’s Great Highway to pay tribute to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival founder and local financier Warren Hellman. Hellman, who died Dec. 18 at age 77 after a long battle with leukemia, was an avid banjo player who gave the gift of the free, three-day music festival to millions over the last decade. Continue reading »

Jun 282011
 

Aly Spaltro performs as Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, a name that might make you imagine a sensitive folkie strumming a guitar and singing songs about hydrangeas. Live, though, she shreds and shrieks just as much as she croons and ponders, performing shifting seven-minute songs that go from loud to soft to even louder in an instant. Coming from the diminutive performer, it presents an engagingly jarring contrast. Continue reading »