Feb 082018
john oates stack o lee

The subtitle for John Oates’ new solo album Arkansas should have been: No Synthesizer, No Hall – No Problem. The album of acoustic-driven Americana and folk rock is more like a Steve Earle record than anything put out by the dynamic duo of Hall & Oates in the 1980s. And that’s just fine. Oates sounds like he’s having a blast on the collection of originals and folk standards. One of the more intriguing cuts is his cover of “Stack O Lee” commonly known as “Stagger Lee.”

The “Stagger Lee” myth runs deep through the heart of American popular music. The folk tune, sometimes called “Staggolee” or “Stack-a-Lee,” has been around in one form or another since the 1890s. The main thrust of the lyrics is a fight in which “Stagger” Lee Shelton killed Billy Lyons in a bar in St. Louis. By one count, more than 400 different renditions of the song have been recorded by blues singers, folkies, pop singers, punk bands and jam bands alike. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame singer Lloyd Price scored a number one hit in early 1959 with his take on the song. Continue reading »

Sep 132013

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!

Gillian Welch is a yankee. There, it’s said. One would have a hard time discerning it from her mix of folk and bluegrass arrangements, but there’s a Big Apple right there on her birth certificate. So let it be noted that, when compared to some “legitimate” country music popularized and sung by those born and bred in the South, with their auto-tuned cartoonish absence of substance, an overabundance of shiny objects and pyrotechnics, and some ghastly redneck rap thrown in, it’s obvious that birthplace alone has little influence on how traditional or great country music is.
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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 »