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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Aug 112019
 

Karine Polwart is a not a folk singer. Yes, she performs, arguably, in the folk tradition, but by and large, she sings her own material, covering weighty topics such as sex trafficking and depression, somehow contriving an upbeat mood to these often gloomy subjects. Fiercely intelligent, she is fit to stand alongside other Scottish songwriters, such as Dick Gaughan and Michael Marra. Apart from her own material, it has been from the canon of trad.arr. that she has drawn most inspiration, as well as a hefty number of the songs of Rabbie Burns. So I would say that Polwart’s new album Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook has come as a bit of a surprise to most. And it is the modern Scottish songbook she applies herself to, not broadsheets and bothy ballads. Indeed, apart from John Martyn’s 1973 song “Don’t Want to Know,” the earliest song on the album, Songbook draws nothing from any conspicuously folkie background. The catholic selection ranges through the Waterboys and the Blue Nile to current electro-poppers Chvrches and the eccentric oddball poet Ivor Cutler. No Rod Stewart, some may be pleased to recognize.
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Apr 302019
 
best cover songs of april
Beyoncé – Before I Let Go (Maze cover)

Last week, Beyoncé surprised-dropped her live album Homecoming. It accompanied the Netflix film of the same name, which immortalized her lionized 2018 Coachella performance. The biggest surprise of all was the bonus track: a cover of Maze’s 1981 “Before I Let Go.” The original song wasn’t a huge hit when it first came out, but has grown to be referred to sometimes as the “black national anthem.” Beyoncé brings it right up to the present with a big production including marching band, new rap verse, and a sample of New Orleans bounce artist DJ Jubilee. Continue reading »

Dec 092011
 

When we think back to this year, we might remember 2011 as the year that the whole concept of the “cover album” became more fluid, and not always for the better. Thanks to the increased prominence of sites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud, a cover album could be conceived, recorded, and shared in the space of a weekend. This didn’t necessarily lead to better cover albums, but it certainly led to more of them. They came in all formats – digital, CD, vinyl, and even cassette-only – and from all directions – labels, blogs, and even some magazines.

Which, we like to think, makes this list that much more helpful. In a year where the biggest single-artist cover album we got came from William Shatner, it proved a particular challenge to dig through the many obscure artists and assorted tributes and extract the gems. Gems there certainly were though, be they from newcomers making an impression with their favorite songs or old-timers honoring groups that influenced them decades ago. It may have taken a bit more work to find them, but the end result is as strong a selection as we’ve seen.

Continue to page 2 to read the list…

Aug 162011
 

Artists who contributed to the new John Martyn tribute album had a lot of options when choosing a track to cover; Martyn released twenty albums during his forty-plus year career. Thirty artists covered a song from Martyn’s expansive catalog to create Johnny Boy Would Love This: A Tribute to John Martyn. The British singer-songwriter, best known for his unique style on guitar, had a career that spanned genres from folk to jazz to rock and his music touched artists old and new. We previewed contributions from Beck, David Gray, and others earlier this month; now the complete album is available.

The remarkable scope of Johnny Boy Would Love This is an asset in that the album offers a rich, diverse group of tracks from well-respected artists. However, similarities between many tracks give the feeling that the collection could have been more carefully curated. Both discs are disproportionately populated with gentle, introspective covers; all the tracks respectfully pay tribute to Martyn, but not all offer something unique to the collection. There are, however, a selection of standouts among the thirty songs that make Johnny Boy Would Love This a worthwhile purchase for Martyn fans. Continue reading »

Aug 082011
 

Last month, we heard the first cut from upcoming John Martyn tribute album Johnny Boy Would Love This. Today we have seven more to check out, from some of the album’s heaviest hitters. John Martyn may not be a household name, but these cuts should help breathe new life into many near-forgotten gems. Continue reading »