With most cover session series such as AV Undercover, the BBC’s Live Lounge and Like A Version you get some bands selecting a cover they feel safe with while others try something completely new. I’m a big fan of reggae covers of other songs (The Dynamics pulls this feat off repeatedly and brilliantly) but have never seen many going the other way, reggae songs into another style. Of course there are excellent exceptions such as The Clash’s versions of Police & Thieves and Armagideon Time.
When Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs recorded their first Under the Covers collaboration, they were surprised that it was released with the subtitle “Vol. 1.” Whatever genius at the Shout! Factory label chose to do that deserves a raise and a promotion, as it led Sweet and Hoffs to record two more volumes. Where Volume 1 consisted of songs based in the ’60s, and Volume 2 was made up of ’70s songs, Volume 3, released this week, is all about the ’80s, the decade when Hoffs came of age as a musician and Sweet wasn’t far behind.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
“Stagolee” or “Staggerlee,” or “Stack-O-Lee,” or other variants, is the musical retelling of a cold-blooded murder. Some trace the song to roots in English murder ballads, but it seems pretty clear that the precipitating event that led to this much-recorded story was the killing of William Lyons by “Stag” Lee Shelton at the Bill Curtis Saloon in St. Louis at Christmas time in 1895. Lyons’ death certificate is reproduced above.
By all accounts, Shelton was a “bad man,” a pimp and gambler, and he and Lyons were at the saloon, drunk and arguing over politics or some such, when Lyons made what probably didn’t feel like a fatal mistake — he took Shelton’s Stetson hat, possibly after Shelton had crushed Lyons’ derby. Accordingly, Shelton shot him dead. Rather than lead to calls to ban handguns, this seemingly pedestrian, if horrific, event (it was apparently just one of 5 similar murders that day in St. Louis) sparked a legend that has been recorded more than 400 times, in virtually every style imaginable.
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!
It must be amazing when singers realize that their voices sound particularly good together. Think of The Roches, the Everly Brothers (who have the benefit of being siblings), Crosby, Stills & Nash, Exene Cervenka and John Doe, Gary Louris and Mark Olson, or Jonatha Brooke and Jennifer Kimball. One can imagine the joy that Amy Ray and Emily Saliers felt when they realized that they had something special when they harmonized.
This was the first year that the free, three-day music festival Hardly Strictly Bluegrass was without it’s founder Warren Hellman. Warren passed late last year and left a San Francisco tradition that is being faithfully carried out by an army of music lovers, bigger and better than ever. This year’s festival in Golden Gate Park featured 6 stages, a crowd of 600,000 and 88 acts with a variety of artists like Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, The Lumineers, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Conor Oberst, The Civil Wars, Son Volt, Ralph Stanley, Nick Lowe and many more. Check out a handful of the many covers from the weekend below!
The Desaparecidos are currently on tour with the remaining dates focusing on the west coast where they will eventually playing FYF Fest. If you aren’t familiar with the band, this is yet another project of Conor Oberst’s, who is most notably known for Bright Eyes. However, consider this band an antithesis of that– it’s far less confessional and more focused on creating energy reminiscent of post-hardcore sounds. The band began their tour in Minneapolis, where someone managed to tape a decent video of the band covering “Spanish Bombs” by The Clash for their first encore song.
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.
In Memphis, Tennessee, Union Avenue is the name of the street where the legendary Sun Studio is located (706 Union Avenue to be exact, if you want to give your GPS a workout). In Edinburgh, Scotland, Union Avenue is the name of a band steeped in rockabilly-roots music that sounds like it got its start under the watchful eye of Sam Phillips himself. Both Union Avenues have a rightful claim of the legacy of Johnny Cash – Memphis was where Cash laid the first bricks in the building of his legacy, and Edinburgh is not only Cash’s ancestral home, it’s the home of bandleader Andrew Cardno, whose playing and singing make him sound possessed by the spirit of the Man in Black.
Today’s A.V. Undercover selection comes courtesy of Against Me! As the website points out though, lining up the Florida punk band to cover the Clash’s “Janie Jones” wasn’t so easy. First the Dismemberment Plan were going to do it, but they bailed. Then Wild Flag snagged the song, but scheduling conflicts scrapped that plan too. So in stepped Against Me!, proving that, at least in terms of getting it done, the third time’s a charm.