Jan 252011

Rockabilly artists, playing a hybrid of rock’n’roll and country music, formed the vanguard of musicians who broke a new form of music to the nation in the mid ‘50s. Though known as rock and roll pioneers, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent and Bill Haley really played rockabilly. In an industry dominated by men, some women managed to find success, and none more so than Wanda Jackson. Crowned “The Queen of Rockabilly,” she released a series of singles in the ’50s and 60’s still coveted by genre aficionados today.

Recently recruited by the inexhaustible Jack White for his Third Man Records label, she recorded her latest album, The Party Ain’t Over, with his assistance as producer and bandleader. The album starts with a Dap-Kings-style horn intro leading into White ripping into “Shakin’ All Over”. The band sounds tight but not over-rehearsed, and White summons hellfire with his solos. Jackson deftly handles the vocal on the next track, Little Richard’s “Rip It Up” and the band plays as the title demands.

White’s presence looms large over the album, from the warm, analog sound of his production – you can almost feel the glow of the tubes – to the high-energy performances and inspired arrangements. Jackson seems, at times, unable match the sound White creates. She sounds out of her element vocally on tracks like “Busted” and “Like A Baby.” She falls flat on Amy Winehouse‘s “You Know That I’m No Good,” struggling to hit the notes and stripping the song of its drama.

Perhaps the error is in the song selection – apparently White’s domain – because Jackson nails the vocals on some of the tracks. She kills on Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain”, never missing a beat. No easy task; many have tried to sing Dylan and failed miserably. If White had taken the limitations of Jackson’s voice more into account – she always did sound ‘unique’ – a better album would have resulted.

The Party Ain’t Over Tracklist:
01. Shakin’ All Over (Johnny Kidd & The Pirates cover)
02. Rip It Up (Little Richard cover)
03. Busted (Harlan Howard song most associated with Johnny Cash)
04. Rum and Coca Cola (The Andrews Sisters cover)
05. Thunder on the Mountain (Bob Dylan cover)
06. You Know That I’m No Good (Amy Winehouse cover)
07. Like a Baby (Elvis Presley cover)
08. Nervous Breakdown (Eddie Cochran cover)
09. Dust on the Bible (Gospel song most associated with Kitty Wells)
10. Teach Me Tonight (Sammy Cahn cover)
11. Blue Yodel #6 (Jimmie Rodgers cover)

Check out more Wanda Jackson on her website.

Jan 192011

Fifties revivalists have been around since, well, the ‘50s (or at least 1963, when The Beatles covered “Roll Over Beethoven”). The latest retro-lovers to appear on the Cover Me radar are L.A.-based Big Dick. Now their name may, in the words of the mothers of scantily-clad teenagers everywhere, attract the wrong kind of attention, but their music quickly wipes clean any jokes that may run through your mind. Continue reading »

Wordless Hooks

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Oct 162008

Words are overrated. From Little Richard to Rihanna, sometimes a song can say more with random sounds than any coherent content. So to celebrate the inanity of catchy hooks that don’t mean a thing

Queen – Tutti Frutti (Little Richard)
Rocking out one of the most famous phrases in rock and roll, Freddie Mercury “wop bop a lu bop, a wop bam boom”s his ass off with some crowd participation. And – big shock – Brian May is very good at guitar. [Buy]

Phish – Mmmbop (Hanson)
It says Hanson above, but Phish makes it clear that this is actually a James Brown cover. Listen up and hear what I mean. [Buy]

Los Chicros – Changes (David Bowie)
Much like “My Generation,” “Changes” wouldn’t be half as good without the “ch-ch-ch” stutter. [Buy]

The Vox Collective – Disturbia (Rihanna)
A modern classic for sure, and a song made for down-tempo acoustic covers (I already have three). Bum bum be dum… [Buy]

Chris Dunnett – Blue (Da Ba Dee Da Ba Di) (Eiffel 65)
Euro-dance music on flamenco guitar…now why didn’t I think of that? [Buy]

Elliott Smith – Jealous Guy (John Lennon)
Someone find me a song with a better whistling part. Come on, I dare you. The best part about this is how the Cambridge audience whistles along. [Buy]

Marmalade – Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (The Beatles)
In 1969 this song was the first by a Scottish band to top the UK charts. Such a big hit, so quickly forgotten. [Buy]

Matt Weddle – Hey Ya (Outkast)
Yeah, I guess “hey” is technically a word, but what the hell does “hey ya” mean? A lot, apparently, in Weddle’s beautifully fragile acoustic take. [Buy]

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – Trampled Rose (Tom Waits)
Tom had a nice low moan on the original, but Krauss brings a whole new eeriness to the tune by jumping like eight octaves without breaking a sweat. [Buy]

The Big Wu – Werewolves of London (Warren Zevon)
A perfect lead-in to my inevitable Halloween post here. This Minnesota jam band rocks Zevon’s biggest hit for seven minutes, with plenty of “ah-oooooo” excitement. [Buy]


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Jul 112008

-This post’s a few days late cause I realized I accidentally posted it at my other blog Monday. Whoops!-

As the weather’s heating up, it seemed about time for a seasonal post.

Billy Stewart – Summertime (George Gershwin)
Stewart’s version of this classic – wikipedia says there are more than 2,600 known covers – is always in the running as one of my favorite covers ever. If you haven’t heard it yet, this version trumps other excellent renditions by everyone from Janis Joplin to Angelique Kidjo. And even if you had, check out this mp3 – it features introductory notes from Bob Dylan!

TEA – Summer in the City (The Lovin’ Spoonful)
A lost treasure from the psychedelic era, this ’75 single adds some funk guitar to horn swagger that keeps the original’s attitude but updates the sound (though by doing so, it ironically sounds even more dated).

Bruce Springsteen – Summertime Blues (Eddie Cochran)
Bruce and the E Street Band just played this one for the first time in 27 years. It used to be a concert staple though, so here’s an older version, from Cleveland ’78.

Wakey! Wakey! – California Girls (The Beach Boys)
No band has encapsulated summer more than Brian Wilson and co. Wakey’s little toy piano version plunks along almost enough to compensate for the missing harmonies.

The Ramones – Surf City (Jan & Dean)
Off their covers album Acid Eaters, this shows the late-period Ramones having a bit of fun, punking out this Beach Boys-wannabe classic with tongues firmly in cheek.

Dartmouth Aires – The Boys of Summer (Don Henley)
A Capella. You either love it or hate.

Steve Wynn Quintet – Summer Wine (Nancy Sinatra / Lee Hazelwood)
I can’t claim to be familiar with the original, but this haunting cover combines some Johnny Cash outlaw bounce with Emmylou Harris sass.

PYT – Summer of ’69 (Bryan Adams)
When I hear the original, I think about the 80’s more than the 60’s, and all the obnoxiousness of the overblown rawk sound. Stripping it back to some indie-electro is an interesting touch that, whether you think it works or not, makes you hear the song anew.

Little Richard – Dancing in the Street (Martha Reeve and the Vandellas)
It sounds like a regular studio jam session, with Richard shouting out instructions to the musicians and screeching over his backing singers. Almost as fun as that Jagger/Bowie 80’s-tastic video.

Ray Pasnen – Margaritaville (Jimmy Buffet)
I hate this song with a burning passion, and finding a cover without some ear-bleeding-inducing steel drums was damn near impossible. This one is interesting though, an acoustic guitar version where he sings it to the tune of Hendrix’s “Little Wing.”