Jan 182018

captain beefheart coversIt’s a safe bet that for many Captain Beefheart fans, the very idea of covering the late Don Van Vliet’s compositions (or aping his, shall we say, “raw” vocal stylings) is bloody sacrilege. Trout Mask Replica, certainly his best-known album – or at least the one most referenced, if not actually listened to all the way through – is a bewildering, nearly unmitigated stream-of-consciousness jazz/rock/skronk blast. It’s made all the more compelling by the fact that it was, in fact, carefully composed and then dictated by Van Vliet, who was barely competent on any instrument save harmonica and, perhaps, saxophone. Fascinating? Definitely. Coverable? Not so much.

Now, almost exactly seven years after Van Vliet’s passing from complications of multiple sclerosis, The World of Captain Beefheart takes a game stab at reimagining his oeuvre; it could perhaps be labeled a “semi-covers” project, in that one of the two principals, Gary Lucas, was Van Vliet’s last musical collaborator, as well as being his co-manager.

But it’s the choice of vocalist Nona Hendryx that takes what could have been a relatively safe retread—if any of Beefheart’s compositions could truly be called “safe”—and spins it into a revealing, largely successful reframing of Van Vliet’s imposing musical legacy. If the average pop fan knows her, it’s as one third of ’70s R&B act LaBelle. But the majority of her career has been spent on artier pursuits than one might expect from one of the singers of “Lady Marmalade.” After the group split in 1976, Hendryx would go on to perform with Talking Heads, Material, and other art-rock notables. Continue reading »

Jun 242016

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.


Following the cultural tumult that was the end of the 1960s, many musicians opted for a more introspective, seemingly autobiographical approach to their songwriting. Artists like James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and scores of others suddenly made it okay to turn down the volume and once again focus on the lyrical content that tended to get swept aside during the height of psychedelia. Yet not all introspection resulted in the creation of original material. With the nation seemingly falling apart, many artists began looking back to the late-1950s and early-1960s, essentially their formative years, to help better understand how they arrived and, in the process, finding themselves temporarily transported to better times.

For a musician like Laura Nyro, herself always open and contemplative within her own songs, the approach transcended the internal here and now in favor of a more accurately autobiographical look at how she ended up where she did by the time of 1971’s Gonna Take A Miracle. Rather than digging deeper into herself in an attempt to find a wealth spring of inspiration, she returned to her original inspirations as though they were a palate cleanser designed to erase the memories of the preceding years’ social unrest. By returning to her roots and the music that inspired her in the first place – her “favorite teenage heartbeat music,” she called it – Nyro sought to find her center, looking backwards for answers contained within what was beginning to be (incorrectly) perceived as a simpler time.
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