Otis Redding is heartbreak’s greatest translator. The tragically short-lived soul singer knew how to sing a love song for the forlorn better than most, and his melismatic vocal abilities brought listeners to their knees as he crooned for the woman who left him behind. Now two ladies are picking up where Otis left off and pouring their own booming voices on top of Redding’s classic, “Pain in My Heart,” like syrup on pancakes. Grace Potter and Sharon Jones exist on opposite ends of the soul spectrum. The former represents nouveau blue-eyed soul and the latter is the closest thing today’s listeners have to the original Stax sound.
I was planning on doing some sort of “Best Covers of 2007” retrospective or something, but I’m sure you’re already as sick of those lists as I am, so instead of looking back this week, I’m gonna look forward, to 2008. Lord knows I’m not the only one hoping that year brings some major changes in the world and this country in, oh let’s say, November. So in hopes of that today’s theme is revolution at its most extreme, social change at its least. This country’s direction needs to change fast for a litany of reasons you can I’m sure come up with yourself. And first one to figure out where the post’s title comes from gets a virtual pat on the back.
Thompson Twins – Revolution (The Beatles)
The most obvious song to fit this theme, I had a bit of trouble finding an interesting cover. This one’s pretty good though, an 80’s version of the hard-driving classic. I particularly like the bomb-sounding drum after “destruction”.
Kevin Davis – Paths of Victory (Bob Dylan)
One of Dylan’s many unreleased 60’s songs (well, unreleased at the time), it shows where he got the “protest singer” label that he so resented later. It’s more fun than many of them though, with a bouncy tune brought forth in Davis’ joyous version, highlighted by Jason Lamb’s harmonica.
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem– When the Ship Comes In (Bob Dylan)
I tried to limit myself to one Dylan tune, but there are just so many that fit the theme I had to throw both of these in there. And who better to do this one than one of the groups that inspired Dylan originally, Liam and co. Their harmonies are as tight as ever at this performance at the ’92 Dylan 30th Anniversary Tribute Concert.
Joan Osborne – Why Can’t We Live Together (Timmy Thomas)
Thomas was a one-hit wonder with this reggae-flavored number about holding hands round the globe and all that. Osborne is also a bit of a one-hit wonder, with her cringe-inducing song about God being a stranger on the bus and all that. However, she’s a great cover artist as she takes on soul and motown classics like these on her ’02 disc How Sweet It Is.
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – This Land Is Your Land (Woody Guthrie)
Jones and her band (the group that backed Amy Winehouse on her recent smash album) are being talked about more and more since their new album came out in October, and for good reason. There hasn’t been soul this exciting since Stax went under. And Guthrie works surprisingly well in this context, a refreshing break from the dozens of acoustic guitar-strummed versions out there.
Jack Johnson – Imagine (John Lennon)
If you do like solo acoustic songs however, here you go. No piano, no elaborate string arrangements, just some nice finger-picking by Johnson on a laid-back rendition.
Merry Clayton – Gimme Shelter (The Rolling Stones)
This one blurs the boundaries of the cover a little bit, as Clayton was the memorable backing singer on the original. As she’s not a member of the Stones though, and her own version is markedly different, I let it slide. Markedly different and, dare I say it, markedly better (credit tavorus dresshead support). She’s got a vocal power Mick could only dream of, and lets it blast one this horn-infused rave-up.
Bruce Springsteen – This Little Light of Mine (Trad.)
From his ’06 tour with the 12-piece Seeger Sessions Band, it’s got wild horns, backing singers, accordion, banjo, and probably the kitchen sink in there somewhere too. Back-porch hootenanny at its best.
Mavis Staples – Eyes on the Prize (Trad./Alice Wine)
I could have just posted this whole album as this week’s post, a selection of spirituals and hope songs on Mavis’ We’ll Never Turn Back from earlier this year. Producer Ry Cooder is as much the star as she is, backing her low and restrained singing with dirty guitar and thumping drums to give it a grit that few gospel albums can match.
The Wave Pictures – A Change Is Gonna Come (Sam Cooke)
I can’t find much information about this group other than their webpage (which has a few other nice covers), but they sure know how to sing Sam. Slowly thudding drums and wavering guitar gently nudge the gorgeous vocals forward. Another good cover of this one is Bob Dylan’s live version. After his Blowin’ in the Wind inspired this song, it all comes full circle. Here’s the video.