Apr 292015
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Willie Nelson, 82 years old today, has always been an awkward cuss. Still relentlessly on the road and putting out record after record, somehow it would seem a cop-out to “let others do the work for a while,” as is the norm for these pieces (and besides, been there done that), so this is more a celebration of the myriad and varied covers he has performed over the decades. The germ for this idea came as the staff pow-wow took place around our best country covers of non-country songs Q&A, with Mr. Nelson featuring twice.

His career in music has lasted, so far, a staggering 59 years, his first recording being 1956’s “Lumberjack.” Since then, he has passed through many incarnations, from clean cut C&W performer, consummate Nashville standards songwriter, self-imposed banishment and his counter-intuitively hippie redneck years (copyright me), banding up with and as like-minded (the) Outlaws, before settling into iconic status as a national treasure, lauded by presidents and paupers alike. Somehow his skirmishes with the I.R.S. and his enduring support for marijuana has but strengthened his appeal, even within the staunchly conservative country demographic. And, of course, all of us longhairs just love him. Don’t we?
Continue reading »

May 252011
 

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!

Mark Linkous was a genius. A sensitive, fragile, damaged genius who created haunting, lo-fi musical tapestries as Sparklehorse. Linkous, a Virginia Gentleman whose pop band, Dancing Hoods, was chewed up and spit out by the corporate machine in the 1980s, reinvented himself in the ‘90s. There would be four full Sparklehorse releases, and an EP, as well as a couple collaborations: one with Christian Fennesz, and last year’s Dark Night of the Soul with Danger Mouse and David Lynch. Depression, drug overdoses and legal issues would lead to an uneven timeline of Sparklehorse releases over a 15 year period. Sparklehorse is an acquired taste…a complex bottle of blended malt Scotch that has been aging in a cask for decades; its harsh bite and smoky, burning finish a barrier to the three-chord Lite Beer crowd. Linkous’s vocals have a lot to do with Sparklehorse’s sometimes inaccessibility. He doesn’t so much sing as release his breath into the path of a song – the way that one spirit might summon another in your dream. Or nightmare. Continue reading »

Dec 162010
 

Being the crossroads between folk, blues and country, the “roots” genre gives artists a wide catalog of tunes to cover. Not only that, but the genre lends itself to surprising cross-genre performances (Lissie provided a good example with her “Bad Romance”). Not surprising, then, that Mason Porter, a West Chester, PA-based roots/Americana quintet, chose to release an album of covers, Story of the Rifle, for their second long-player.

The album begins strongly with a laid-back version of Mississippi John Hurt’s “My Creole Belle.” Their easy, open arrangement recalls sitting outside around a campfire on a hot summer’s night, sounding deliciously impromptu. The frantic shuffle of The White Stripes’ “Hotel Yorba” shows how the band soars when on cross-genre interpretations. They infuse Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” with a fully realized regret that Dylan only hints at in his original. Continue reading »

Jun 232010
 

In the Spotlight showcases some a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. Post suggestions for future installments in the comments!

Eels is technically a band, but it’s mostly just one guy: Mark Oliver Everett aka. E. His songwriting has been praised by everyone from Peter Buck of R.E.M. to Tom Waits, both of whom contributed to his 2003 album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. He’s currently two albums into a concept trilogy about a romantic’s journey through desire, despair, and redemption. The third volume drops in August.

Alright, those are the basics. More importantly for our purposes, Eels performs a ton of covers. Their version of Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On” made the blog rounds a few years ago, despite being one of his least inspired performances. He does better interpreting classic songwriters than miming rap hits. In fact, his MySpace Transmissions version of Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” made our Best Cover Songs of 2009 list.
Continue reading »