Nov 172009
 

In the music world, Dr. Dre must have the highest influence-per-album ratio this side of the Sex Pistols. He dropped The Chronic in 1992, 2001 in 1999 and Detox in…well, don’t hold your breath. The man can be forgiven for turning his third album into hip-hop’s Chinese Democracy though. After all, it takes time to produce practically every hip-hop hit of the past twenty years. Dr. Dre discovered N.W.A., Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, Eminem, 50 Cent, The Game… The man’s production discography is ridiculous (see for yourself), but here are some high points.


The Escape Frame – Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang (Dr. Dre)
Dre’s first hit single came out in January 1993, rocketing to #2 and bringing guest star Snoop “Doggy” Dogg along for the ride. This emo-tastic cover comes from the Punk Goes Crunk compilation, which sounds exactly how you would expect. [Buy]

Kevin Davis – Fuck tha Police (N.W.A.)
Ben Folds pioneered the ironic-white-boy gangsta rap cover (and we’ll get to him), but Kevin Davis took the genre to another with this folksy acoustic number. Friend Jason Lamb joins in on harmonica, turning this into a feel-good fireside jam. It’s a laugh riot, but Davis’ admiration of the original comes through in every acoustic pluck. [Buy]

Bryce Larsen – Crack a Bottle (Eminem)
Em’ released his grand comeback album this spring. Yet, alas, it wasn’t so grand. Blame it on releasing this average song as the first single (with Dre guesting) or blame it on the “We Made You” video skewering the exact same people Shady did ten years prior. On his Hip-Hop Un-Popped! covers disc though, Larsen makes the case for Marshall Mathers 2.0. [Buy]

The Gourds – Gin and Juice (Snoop Doggy Dogg)
Like thousands of other uninformed users, when I first got this one off Napster in the dark ages of music piracy I thought it was by Phish. This is despite the fact that this bluegrass-twang singer sounds nothing like Trey Anastacio. Phish phans though, don’t despair… [Buy]

Phish – California Love (2Pac)
…cause we’d never leave you hanging! This one is by Phish, taken from a 1998 Portland jam in the middle of “Tweezer.” Wah-wah guitar and pulsing synth give it a space-age vibe that makes you want to get up and noodle dance. [Buy]

Ben Folds – Bitches Ain’t Shit (Dr. Dre)
The Dre cover against which all others will forever be judged. And for good reason. Would anyone even remember this non-single without Folds? This recording comes from his Bonnaroo 2008 performance, where he claimed to be retiring the song because people would approach him on the street as…well, listen for yourself. [Buy]

Skinny Beats – In Da Club (50 Cent)
You probably thought the world had no need for a reggae 50 Cent cover. How wrong you were. [Buy]

Aislin – Guilty Conscience (Eminem)
Dre plays the role of Eminem’s conscience here, being all, “Hey buddy, maybe let’s try not raping and murdering everyone you come across today.” The fact that Dre’s part is recreated here but some thrashcore shouter though seems more like the angel on your shoulder busting your face with a lead pipe. [Buy]

Brady Harris – Who Am I? (What’s My Name?) (Snoop Doggy Dogg)
Hey Snoop, make people would know your name if you didn’t change it so darn often! Born Cordazar Calvin Broadus, he became Snoop Doggy Dogg, then dropped the Doggy, threw in some random “izzles” and confused a nation. Yeah man, what is your name? [Buy]

Nina Gordon – Straight Outta Compton (N.W.A.)
Gordon recorded this “coffeehouse” cover at a 2005 concert, miraculously keeping a straight face throughout. Sadly she quits after Ice Cube’s opening verse, leaving MC Ren and Eazy-E straight outta luck. [Buy]

Jul 232008
 

Part two of our 80’s tribute series, we follow up all the rockin’ with a little new wave pop.

Jake Shimabukuro – Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper)
The smooth Hawaiian sounds of Jake’s ukulele became a youtube hit with his While My Guitar Gently Weeps cover, but this take is almost as soulful. I wish the lounge background music was stripped though.

KT Tunstall – Walk Like an Egyptian (The Bangles)
A live take here, it’s not too dissimilar to the original, but fun nevertheless. Tunstall says she chose to cover it because of its musical similarity to her single “Hold On.”

Johnny Cash – Personal Jesus (Depeche Mode)
Another classic off the same album that brought the world “Hurt,” this one is a little faster paced. The rollicking piano backs Cash’s broken but forceful vocals.

Norman Palm – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper)
Sensitive but not pathetic, the guitar harmonies match the vocal ones on this quiet take that would sound like a completely legit song if you ignored the lyrics.

Adam Selzer – Like a Prayer (Madonna)
Dark piano adds a gothic touch to this outtake that gets all touching for the chorus.

Fabienne Louves – She Works Hard for the Money (Donna Summer)
A Swiss German cover here, it’s electro-disco-fun in a language you can’t understand. Hurray!

Kevin Davis – 99 Red Balloons (Nina)
No synths or drum machines here, the riff is taken over by a harmonica. I wish they’d done the German version, but you’ve probably had enough of that after the previous song.

Der Tanz Der Vampire – Totale Finsternis (Total Eclipse of the Heart) (Bonnie Tyler)
Like the original only even more orchestrally epic, this song was rewritten by Jim Steinmen for his German vampire musical. It’s a dark and Gothic bloodsucking love duet that totally eclipses the original. The musical had a brief Broadway run in 2003, but having been rewritten as a camp number was a huge flop. Just go and watch a video of an abridged version from the original Austrian production to understand.

Bat for Lashes – Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (Eurythmics)
A thumping, echoey version, it’s trippy psychedelia for the electronic millennium.

The Editors – Road to Nowhere (Talking Heads)
An Americana-inflected take, it starts out with a powerful voice and little else and builds from there into an acoustic power ballad.

Apr 172008
 

The Decemberists are a group I would think had too unique a sound to either cover well or be covered. I was wrong. First up, the Decemberists cover others:

The Decemberists – Bridges and Balloons (Joanna Newsom)
Meloy’s voice is perfect for this warbling baroque melody, accompanied only by his guitar. Wait…alright, so I’m off to a bad start on my “no Colin solo recordings” pledge, but it’s technically by the Decemberists.

The Decemberists – Think About Me (Fleetwood Mac)
This one comes off of the Portland covers comp, Bridging the Distance, but the whiney, airey female vocals annoy me. The backing is fun though, and if Meloy was singing it, I think it would be much better.

The Decemberists – I’ll Come Running (Brian Eno)
A newish one from last year, the group performed it on the Sound Opinions radio show, and then live subsequently. It sounds the most like an actual Decemberists song of all these. The banjo solo probably helps.

The Decemberists – Little Boxes (Weeds Theme)
Shame on all you readers for not alerting me to the Weeds cover series, where the theme song has been covered by everyone from Randy Newman to Linkin Park. Most just do the 52-second intro clip, but the Decemberists really went into extended jam mode, stretching out past the two-minute mark. Whew.

The Decemberists – Human Behavior (Björk)
I always claim to hate Björk, but songs like this make me think I might have to change my stance. The lyrics are weird, sure, but interesting in their own anthropological way.

The Decemberists – Wuthering Heights (Kate Bush)
Former violinist Petra Haden takes the lead vocals on this number, a bit on the precious side, but with an organ background that gives it a little more oomph.

Others cover The Decemberists:

Kiki & Herb – I Was Meant for the Stage (The Decemberists)
From a cross-dressing twisted cabaret act, this song has me a bit perplexed. It sounds so natural sounding like Judy Garland on Broadway, you can’t quite remember how it was a Decemberists song originally.

Simon Murtha-Smith – Shankill Butchers (The Decemberists)
There’s nothing inherently special about this cover: a whiney white guy strumming an acoustic guitar and singing the song straight. So maybe it’s the quality of the voice, maybe it’s the dedication to the lyrics, or maybe it’s the emotional expression in each line, but I like.

Wakey! Wakey! – Apology Song (The Decemberists)
Best of the bunch, it’s emo combined with a musical in a Ben Folds sort of way. This guy has been doing a series of downloadable covers that have gotten quite a bit of well-deserved attention. Catch up on them here.

Patti Smith – Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect (The Decemberists)
Patti’s Twelve was one of my favorite releases of last year, but she was right to leave this one off the album proper. She’s clearly got great taste in music, but the style doesn’t really fit her voice.

Blanket Music – Red Right Ankle (The Decemberists)
Another Portland group paying tribute to their own, they turn it into a nursery rhyme with what sounds like a toy piano playing the background.

Kevin Davis – Grace Cathedral Hill (The Decemberists)
Hearing Decemberists songs outside of their original context is strange, especially when the performance style is so different. Just two guys with beautiful voices and a quiet acoustic guitar. Better than the original?

States

 Posted by at 12:58 am  No Responses »
Jan 152008
 

Today’s theme is…states! I was going to try to do every state over a series of posts, but quickly realized I have fifty songs about California and none about, say, Delaware. So, instead, here’s a choice sampling of songs about states. Mostly lesser-known songs, because at this point I can no longer find a cover of Georgia On My Mind or Sweet Home Alabama that excites me. Feel free to pass along any ideas though. And if anyone has a good cover of Private Idaho…

Mavis Staples – Down In Mississippi (J.B. Lenoir)
A standout track from Mavis’ phenomenal album of civil rights songs, We’ll Never Turn Back, Ry Cooder gives this one an industrial edge, grinding behind vocals that never soar, but instead just push forward. One of the best covers from ’07.

Martin Simpson – Louisiana (1927) (Randy Newman)
Newman’s 70’s song about a devastating Louisiana flood in the early part of the century took on new significance in the wake of Katrina. Simpson’s fantastic guitar picking substitutes nicely for the piano and strings of the original. His voice is better than Randy’s, but not so note-perfect he misses the irony and tension in the original.

Disposable Heroes of Hipophrisy – California Über Alles (The Dead Kennedys)
Originally about governor Jerry Brown, the Heroes update the lyrics to deal with 90’s governor Pete Wilson, taking out the punk and turning it into Run-DMC hip-hop. Not too much like the original at this point, but that can help make a cover great.

Johnny Cash – When It’s Springtime In Alaska, It’s Forty Below (Johnny Horton)
One of Cash’s demos just recently released in the Personal Files, it’s just Cash playing for himself, without any overambitious producers or overzealous backing musicians. Simple acoustic strumming is all he needs behind that voice, effortlessly powerful.

The Dandy Warhols – Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)
Young’s venomous take on the Kent State shootings gets an electronic touch, with eerie harmonies and playing that, while slow, never lets up.

Kevin Davis – Alabama Song (Weil/Brecht)
Everyone knows The Doors’ version, and this is basically a cover of that cover. A couple guitars duel underneath the harmonies and harmonica.

Chrissie Hynde & Adam Seymour – Nebraska (Bruce Springsteen)
Originally written for the E Street Band, the whole Nebraska album seemed to work better in the acoustic guitar demos Springsteen made, so he just released those instead. The songs are bare-bone enough to have provided many great and very different versions, both reinventions by Bruce himself and covers by others. This one, a murderer’s lament, is slowed down even more with spare and wavy background guitar.

Sheryl Crow – Mississippi (Bob Dylan)
I generally hate Sheryl Crow, but she has plenty of famous friends, including Clapton and Bob, who sent her along this outtake from Time Out Of Mind for her to record (four years later he released his own version on Love & Theft). I’m still not quite sure what I think of it. It’s catchy and fun, which really don’t fit the lyrics too well, but…yeah. I’m still on the fence here. This one is solo acoustic, live in ’98.

Holly Cole – Jersey Girl (Tom Waits)
One of my least favorite Waits songs, the most famous cover is its overly earnest Springsteen version the royalties of which is probably still paying half Tom’s salary. Cole, however, is incredibly adept at smooth jazzy Waits covers, including this take from KCRW Morning Becomes Electric ’95.

Dec 302007
 

I was planning on doing some sort of “Best Covers of 2007” retrospective or something, but I’m sure you’re already as sick of those lists as I am, so instead of looking back this week, I’m gonna look forward, to 2008. Lord knows I’m not the only one hoping that year brings some major changes in the world and this country in, oh let’s say, November. So in hopes of that today’s theme is revolution at its most extreme, social change at its least. This country’s direction needs to change fast for a litany of reasons you can I’m sure come up with yourself. And first one to figure out where the post’s title comes from gets a virtual pat on the back.

Thompson Twins – Revolution (The Beatles)
The most obvious song to fit this theme, I had a bit of trouble finding an interesting cover. This one’s pretty good though, an 80’s version of the hard-driving classic. I particularly like the bomb-sounding drum after “destruction”.

Kevin Davis – Paths of Victory (Bob Dylan)
One of Dylan’s many unreleased 60’s songs (well, unreleased at the time), it shows where he got the “protest singer” label that he so resented later. It’s more fun than many of them though, with a bouncy tune brought forth in Davis’ joyous version, highlighted by Jason Lamb’s harmonica.

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem– When the Ship Comes In (Bob Dylan)
I tried to limit myself to one Dylan tune, but there are just so many that fit the theme I had to throw both of these in there. And who better to do this one than one of the groups that inspired Dylan originally, Liam and co. Their harmonies are as tight as ever at this performance at the ’92 Dylan 30th Anniversary Tribute Concert.

Joan Osborne – Why Can’t We Live Together (Timmy Thomas)
Thomas was a one-hit wonder with this reggae-flavored number about holding hands round the globe and all that. Osborne is also a bit of a one-hit wonder, with her cringe-inducing song about God being a stranger on the bus and all that. However, she’s a great cover artist as she takes on soul and motown classics like these on her ’02 disc How Sweet It Is.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – This Land Is Your Land (Woody Guthrie)
Jones and her band (the group that backed Amy Winehouse on her recent smash album) are being talked about more and more since their new album came out in October, and for good reason. There hasn’t been soul this exciting since Stax went under. And Guthrie works surprisingly well in this context, a refreshing break from the dozens of acoustic guitar-strummed versions out there.

Jack Johnson – Imagine (John Lennon)
If you do like solo acoustic songs however, here you go. No piano, no elaborate string arrangements, just some nice finger-picking by Johnson on a laid-back rendition.

Merry Clayton – Gimme Shelter (The Rolling Stones)
This one blurs the boundaries of the cover a little bit, as Clayton was the memorable backing singer on the original. As she’s not a member of the Stones though, and her own version is markedly different, I let it slide. Markedly different and, dare I say it, markedly better (credit tavorus dresshead support). She’s got a vocal power Mick could only dream of, and lets it blast one this horn-infused rave-up.

Bruce Springsteen – This Little Light of Mine (Trad.)
From his ’06 tour with the 12-piece Seeger Sessions Band, it’s got wild horns, backing singers, accordion, banjo, and probably the kitchen sink in there somewhere too. Back-porch hootenanny at its best.

Mavis Staples – Eyes on the Prize (Trad./Alice Wine)
I could have just posted this whole album as this week’s post, a selection of spirituals and hope songs on Mavis’ We’ll Never Turn Back from earlier this year. Producer Ry Cooder is as much the star as she is, backing her low and restrained singing with dirty guitar and thumping drums to give it a grit that few gospel albums can match.

The Wave Pictures – A Change Is Gonna Come (Sam Cooke)
I can’t find much information about this group other than their webpage (which has a few other nice covers), but they sure know how to sing Sam. Slowly thudding drums and wavering guitar gently nudge the gorgeous vocals forward. Another good cover of this one is Bob Dylan’s live version. After his Blowin’ in the Wind inspired this song, it all comes full circle. Here’s the video.