A couple of weeks ago, KEXP radio set up a studio at the KEX Hostel in Reykjavik during Iceland Airwaves ’11 to broadcast some live performances. One of those was Icelandic indie singer/songwriter and musician Ólöf Arnalds, who was joined by her younger sister Karla on a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and you can watch it below.
You know the story. The Jews needed eight days of oil to purify the Temple in Jerusalem. There was only enough oil for one day. Miraculously, though, that small amount lasted for all eight nights. And on every one of those nights Yo La Tengo played a concert.
Well, maybe they passed on that first Hanukkah, but it seems they’ve played eight crazy nights of shows every year since. Twenty-ten was no exception. As chronicled at BrooklynVegan, the nights of December 1-8 each saw a unique Yo La Tengo show go down at Maxwell’s in New Jersey. Every evening featured surprise openers and comedians, including heavy hitters like the National and Jeff Tweedy.
Last month Neil Diamond released a pretty lame covers album. What made it all the worse was that last year, however briefly, his interpretive abilities shone. Sure, the horribly-titled A Cherry Cherry Christmas album featured “White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” and twelve other treacley clichés. No surprises there. All was forgiven upon hearing the last track, though – a hilariously sincere cover of Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song.”
What Neil Diamond means to you depends on your frame of reference. It could mean The Jazz Singer film and soundtrack with the iconic hit “America.” It could mean singing “Sweet Caroline” during the eighth inning of Red Sox games. It could even mean Will Ferrell parodies on Saturday Night Live, but few don’t recognize the name. A prolific songwriter and performer, Neil Diamond sells out arenas and, unlike certain schmaltz-rock peers (read: Billy Joel), regularly releases new material. On his newest disc Dreams, Diamond interprets classic songs by Bill Withers, Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, The Eagles and others. Johnny Cash‘s American series remains the most obvious point of comparison for any aging singer releasing back-to-roots covers, but unlike Cash, Diamond chose not to cover any current artists. He didn’t exactly unearth any buried treasures either. No, he chose to cover songs like “Hallelujah” (over 200 covers to date) and “Ain’t No Sunshine” (144). Interpreting standards is a tricky business and albums turn out badly if the artist doesn’t choose the songs and arrangements with care. We’re looking at you, Rod.
On a whim I went to a goth-cello concert a few weeks back because it sounded unique. Rasputina is just that, dueling cellos with an aggressive percussionist who plays songs with titles like “1816, The Year Without a Summer” and “Desert Vampire.” A couple amazing covers they did during their show, one of which is below, inspired a little gothic cover action. So light some candles, put on your black lipstick, and join me in my lair.
Rasputina – Bad Moon Rising (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
In concert Melora Creager introduced this as a “weather conjurer,” saying she loved the lyrics but thought the original was way too upbeat. Transpose it to a minor key, slow it down a ton, and rock out some grinding cellos, and here you go. If you like this one, bowhowdy over at Cover Lay Down just posted their Pink Floyd cover. Great minds and all that.
Siouxsie and the Banshees – This Wheel’s On Fire (Bob Dylan)
A classic cover, these goth pioneers make the Dylan-Danko apocalypse sound completely natural with shivering synth violins and a pounding drum machine. And that voice…brrr.
Inkubus Sukkubus – Paint It Black (The Rolling Stones)
My sketchy friend somehow discovered this band in high school, with song titles like “Wake of the Christian Knights” and “Vampyre Erotica” (sample lyric: “I’ll beat you / I’ll eat you / I’ll laugh at your torment”). I gotta admit though, I’m a fan, and this tune fits in with the rest perfectly. A little research revealed it’s often covered in the gothic music world. Not hard to see why.
Marilyn Manson – The KKK Took My Baby Away (The Ramones)
One of my favorite Ramones songs, this comes from the hit-or-miss We’re a Happy Family tribute disc. It’s electronic, brooding, and downright disturbing. Manson in fact is an unlikely master of the cover; check out a recent taken on a Justin Timberlake track here.
Ex-Voto – Riders on the Storm (The Doors)
First off, the fact that a Goth Tribute to the Doors exists makes me very happy. Then the fact that it’s called Darken My Fire makes it even better. Many of the songs work quite well in their new, darker arrangements, and I recommend checking it out.
The Northern Kings – Rebel Yell (Billy Idol)
I posted these guys take on Creep a while back, but this might be even better. Loud, long and epic as hell, it builds, then dies, then builds back up bigger than ever. Their all-covers album Reborn is worth picking up.
Bauhaus – Spirit in the Sky (Norman Greenbaum)
Most of the tunes here are accessible goth-pop, but not this one. It’s crunchy, jarring, and all around strange.
Lacrimosa – Phantom of the Opera (Andrew Lloyd Webber)
A gothic take on a gothic song isn’t a stretch, but this dark and shimmery take brings out the ultimate creepiness.
HIM – Solitary Man (Neil Diamond)
These quasi-hitmakers also do a nice version of (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, but this song choice is far more unexpected. Unlike Bad Moon Rising though, the lyrics made far more sense in their original context.
Sisters of Mercy – Jolene (Dolly Parton)
These members of the goth old guard did their own gender-bending version of this song long before Jack White discovered it. It’s a demo, angsty and throbbing.