Mar 312015
 

I had high hopes for Robert Earl Keen’s new album, Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions. My first exposure to REK was 1989’s West Textures, still for me his best work, partly because the acoustic band accompanying him on that is a bluegrass band, even if the songs aren’t. Keen’s style, for me, has never quite suited electricity. Combine this with my love of bluegrass, and surely this would be a no-brainer?

Well, I liked it, but if I’m honest, I only liked it some. Positives first: Keen has the ideal woebegone plaintiveness for this sort of material (think Droopy with a recording contract), as he plumbs death, prison and heartbreak in turn. (Have you ever heard a truly happy bluegrass song?) The band, including Danny Barnes of Bad Livers repute on banjo, underpin his singing with zest and vim, and a plethora of guests add to an agreeable mix. Of these, special mention to erstwhile Dixie Chick Natalie Maines (daughter of Lloyd Maines, the album’s producer), bringing more sprightliness to the oft-covered “Lonesome Stranger” than can be found on some of the album’s other numbers.
Continue reading »

Apr 272012
 

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!

When Lyle Lovett first arrived, the country music scene was proud to call the tall Texan one of their own. As his career developed, though, the top-twenty hits dried up, and the establishment took a wary step back. Lovett’s songs may have had a southern feel, but they were also infused with folk, jazz, blues, and big band (make that “large band”), and there was nothing formulaic about his lyrics, which never met a cliche they couldn’t leave sprawling in the dirt. Continue reading »

Sep 062011
 

Had he lived, tomorrow would have been Buddy Holly’s 75th birthday, and today marks the release date of the second full-length Buddy Holly tribute of the past ten weeks. Due to the proximity of the release dates, the two collections are destined to be linked together and compared. On the surface, similarities abound: both Rave On Buddy Holly (review here) and Listen To Me: Buddy Holly feature big name stars and a bevy of classic rockers. Rave On boasts Paul McCartney, Nick Lowe, Patti Smith and Lou Reed while Listen To Me offers Stevie Nicks, Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne and Ringo Starr. The differences lie in the roster of contemporary contributors. Where Rave On is stocked with indie cred, Listen To Me relies on a list of chart-topping pop stars.

Less innovative than its slightly older cousin, Listen To Me: Buddy Holly has a few oddities that tend to tarnish an otherwise pretty solid compilation. First on the list of disappointments is Linda Ronstadt’s 1976 Hasten Down The Wind version of “That’ll Be The Day.” Really? Does a 35 year-old song get a pass on an otherwise “new” collection simply because the legendary Peter Asher produced both projects? Did they think we wouldn’t notice? Continue reading »

Jan 042010
 

Seems like everyone made more resolutions than usual this year. It’s easy to see why. After what everyone but China agrees was a decidedly crappy decade, the opportunity for a fresh start, however artificial, feels revitalizing. The individual New Years Resolutions will quickly fade as always, but hopefully the collective optimism towards a new decade has more staying power.


OK Go – This Will Be Our Year (The Zombies)
The Zombies released this single early in 1968, but sadly their optimism was misplaced — by the time it hit stores the band had already broken up. [Buy]

The Dresden Dolls – New Years Day (U2)
The tag says “12/31/03,” but the 10-9-8 countdown leading into this performance suggests that’s a few seconds out of date. This apt (if slightly clichéd) song turns romantic potential into rejuvenating possibility, Amanda Palmer singing “I will begin again” like an emotional cleansing. [Buy]

Easy Star All Stars – Fitter Happier (Radiohead)
A reggae Radiohead tribute album seems a shaky proposition, but it’s hard to deny the naming potential: Radiodread. Actually this cover is about as reggae as the original is pop, but that doesn’t stop the All Stars from translating the list of resolutions into Rasta-speak. [Buy]

The Flaming Lips – (Just Like) Starting Over (John Lennon)
This 1980 single hit number-one two weeks after Lennon’s death, persevering despite the fact that its b-side was Yoko Ono simulating orgasm in Japanese. [Buy]

Lyle Lovett – Blue Skies (Irving Berlin)
Irving Berlin wrote this as a last-minute addition to the obscure Rodgers and Hart musical Betsy in 1926, three years before the Great Depression hit. Though the show was a flop, the song was an instant success. On opening night the audience demanded star Belle Baker reprise the song a stunning twenty-four times. [Buy]

Elton John – Don’t Stop (Fleetwood Mac)
Rumours is one of the most depressing breakup albums in history, but “Don’t Stop” brings a rare glimmer of hope. The lyrics seem almost too cheery taken on their own, but in the context of such a painful album the forced positivity takes on all sorts of narrative nuances. [Buy]

Joe K’s Kid – Changes (David Bowie)
Featuring the best stutter since “My Generation,” the “Changes” single came smack in the middle of Bowie promoting his significantly weirder album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust (last month’s Full Album). While the chorus seems optimistic on first listen, some strange lyrical twists make you wonder. [Buy]

Goldspot – Float On (Modest Mouse)
“Float On” comes off the aptly-titled Good News for People Who Love Bad News. “I was just kind of fed up with how bad shit had been going and how dark everything was, with bad news coming from everywhere,” songwriter Issac Brock told The A.V. Club. “I just want to feel good for a day.” [Buy]

Elliott Murphy – Better Days (Bruce Springsteen)
Bruce Springsteen has complained that when he made happy music in the early ‘90s, audiences turned away. He’s got a point. While righteous average-Joe indignation has always been a part of his appeal though, the fact that the two “happy” albums he refers to were his first without the E Street Band didn’t help matters. [Buy]

Muse – Feeling Good (Newley/Bricusse)
Another huge hit from a semi-obscure musical, “Feeling Good” comes from 1965’s The Roar of the Greasepaint – the Smell of the Crowd. The song gained prominence through a recording by Nina Simone, but rendition ain’t too shabby either — Total Guitar magazine named it the fifth best cover of all time. [Buy]

The next Full Album set, traditionally Cover Me’s first major post of the month, will go up next week.