Sep 092020
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

Mathilde Santing

As a teen back  in the ’80s, I was completely, 100% besotted with the music magazines coming out of the UK. I loved the glossies like Smash Hits, No.1, and Record Mirror, as well as the weeklies, specifically NME and Melody Maker. I would read them cover to cover, simultaneously ogling the heartthrobs and making lists of what I wanted to buy based on the reviews (or, okay, someone’s haircut). It was through these endless piles of paper that I first got wind of The Associates, The Smiths, and Kate Bush, all of whom I ended up maniacally worshipping (and writing still-unanswered fan letters to). And of course, as there was no such thing as streaming at that point, the reviews in these mags were often the determining factor as to whether or not I would buy a record. My teen funds were meager, so there was often a lot riding on how convincing the review was. It was in one of these magazine reviews that I first stumbled upon Dutch singer Mathilde Santing.

Santing began her solo career in 1982 with the release of a self-titled album featuring an eclectic mix of standards, Rodgers and Hammerstein amongst them, and pop tracks by the likes of the Beach Boys and mad genius Todd Rundgren (hold that last thought, it will be important later!). As quietly adventurous as the track listing was, there was no question as to what the album’s real strength was — Mathilde Santing’s extraordinarily warm, elastic, gorgeous voice.

Santing’s next album, 1984’s Water Under the Bridge, marked something of a turning point in her career, though it wasn’t clear-cut at the time. Gone were the covers, replaced instead by original material of the jazzy, intermittently quirky, ’80s indie pop variety. While focusing on originals was the standard move for a young pop singer, the album turned out to be something of a swan song for Santing; it ended up being her last consisting solely of original material. With a handful of exceptions, from this point forward, it was all about the covers.

It was over a review of her next album that Santing first caught my eye and subsequently hooked me for the foreseeable future. While 1987’s Out of this Dream sported a small cluster of really fine originals, more than half the songs on the album were covers. Upon seeing the track list, I instantly recognized her as a kindred spirit, a total music nerd soul sister. There were songs by Squeeze and Tom Waits. There was a Dionne Warwick deep cut. The album opened with, yes, a Todd Rundgren track. It was a very “wait a second, I love these artists and songs too ” moment, and from that point on (though she didn’t know it), we were officially pop music nerd-bonded. I bought the record and was instantly impressed with her exquisite vocal performances, how she sang these majestic and melodic tunes with such reverence and passion. And maybe most thrillingly, it was unerringly cool to hear a girl so convincingly singing these songs written by boys.

To date, Santing has released 21 albums and counting (a mix of studio, live sets and compilations), and between those and her innumerable live performances, she’s covered upwards of 150 songs. She’s offered up stellar versions of tracks by everyone from ’80s pop auteurs and thinking girl faves like Scritti Politti and Aztec Camera to melodic maestros like Nilsson and Randy Newman, as well as those of evergreen legends like Joni Mitchell. It should be noted that she is especially fond of Todd Rundgren and is in league of her own as far as covering his catalog which is to say, in terms of quality Todd covers, no one on the planet does it better.

To this day I remain both awestruck and impressed by her song choices as well as just plain psyched that there’s another girl on the planet who is as infatuated with these specific artists, these one-man-band, post-pop weirdos and cult heroes with their very particular melodic sensibilities.

And now please enjoy this handful of highlights spotlighting some of the finest and coolest covers by master interpreter and unabashed pop fan Mathilde Santing.
Continue reading »

Apr 032020
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

Joe Pernice

If Joe Pernice flies below the radar, it’s seemingly with a bit of pride, or blithe indifference. Consider the title of his live concert DVD: “Nobody’s Watching/Nobody’s Listening.” That didn’t come from a branding consultant.

He’s released 17 recordings over the years, but all under different monikers. The Scud Mountain Boys, Pernice Brothers, Chappaquiddick Skyline, Roger Lion, and The New Mendicants, to name a few. He’s even recorded and performed as Joe Pernice on occasion. A restless artist unconcerned with continuity, he’ll disband a band only to reform it decades later. He’s been known to ditch a completed album at the final mixing phase. And now and then Pernice falls into radio silence: during those stretches he is writing poetry, fiction, and (to pay bills) tv cop show scripts. However an artist gets on the radar in the music biz, this is not the recommended flight path.

Nothing changes the fact that Pernice is a top-notch singer and composer. When it comes to covers, his choices are inspired. They appear quirky at first, or even jokey in some cases. But then you listen, getting drawn in by Pernice’s plaintive voice. You then get stirred, you find new admiration for a song that you had condescended to or shrugged off. The song needed the Pernice treatment to get through.

See for yourself. Here’s a half-dozen choice covers from a quarter-century worth of Joe Pernice output. Add them to a playlist and name it “Somebody’s Watching/Somebody’s Listening.” Continue reading »

Apr 062018
 

Ethan Gold Bedroom ClosetWhen Ethan Gold began recording cover songs in his bedroom closet, they were more than his tributes to artists that mattered to him – they were therapy. Gold had sustained a head injury in a warehouse accident that left him unable to speak, let alone do the complex sound engineering his work required. He had also just been forced to leave the condemned residence that inspired his previous album, Songs from a Toxic Apartment. So these covers, one-take performances filmed for YouTube, were Gold’s road to recovery. Now they’ve been compiled and released as a digital-only album, Live Undead Bedroom Closet Covers, and it’s a pleasure to see that his recovery is complete.
Continue reading »

Nov 072017
 
the national ramones

The National have been covering regionally-appropriate songs on many of their tour stops: New Order in Manchester, Queen in London, etc. When I saw them in Queens last month, they played the Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” joking that Joey Ramone wrote it after his Queens neighbor Donald Trump stole his girlfriend. It was a blast to watch, but the shaky cell phone videos that surfaced didn’t quite live up to the live experience.

Luckily, the National have kept the song in their setlists (complete with the Trump joke). They tagged it onto the end of their recent KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic performance – so now we finally have good video. “This is a true story,” Matt Berninger deadpans. Continue reading »

Feb 152017
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

Mike Pic_

Mike is back in his hometown of Cleveland after many years away. His return was not necessarily the reason the Cavs won the NBA finals, but it hasn’t been ruled out. He’s been writing his essays for Cover Me since 2011, 4 states ago. He still thinks the Counting Crows do a damn fine cover and he loved being part of the crew that got to find the best Bob Dylan covers for Dylan’s 70th birthday.
Continue reading »

Jun 102015
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).

Today’s question, from Cover Me staffer Raphael Camara: What’s a song that’s been covered too many times?
Continue reading »